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QfotngU 5IImtter0ttg Siihrarg 

3tiraca, S?«m ^atk 






\ 1891 

Cornell University Library 
DA 334.M83B83 1920 

Sir Thomas More (The Blessed Thomas More 

3 1924 027 960 800 

Cornell University 

The original of tinis bool< is in 
the Cornell University Library. 

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the United States on the use of the text. 


An entirely New Series of LIVES OF THE SAINTS in separate volumes. 
Written by Eminent European Scholars. 

Under the General Editorship of M. HENRI JOLY, 

Formerly Professor at the Sorbonne, and at the College de France, author of numerous 

works upon Psychology. 

Small crrwn Btif., Scarlet Art Vellum, Gilt Lettered. 


3rd Edition. 

S. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI. By Baron J. Angot des Rotours. 

S. AUGUSTINE. By Prof. Ad. Hatzfeld. 2nd Edition. 

S. VINCENT DE PAUL. By Prince Emmanuel de Broglie. 
Sth Edition. 

S. CLOTILDA. By Prof. G. Kurth. 2nd Edition. 

S. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA. By Henri Joly. 2nd Edition. 

S. LOUIS. By Marius Sepet. 2nd Edition. 

S. AMBROSE. By the Due de Broglie. 2nd Edition. 

S. FRANCIS OF SALES. By A. D. Margerie. 5th Edition. 

S. JEROME. By the Rev Father Largent. 2nd Edition. 

S. NICHOLAS I. By Jules Roy. 

S. DOMINIC. By Jean Guiraud. 2nd Edition. 

S. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM. By Aime Puech. 2nd Edition. 

S. ANTONY OF PADUA. By the Abbe Albert Lepitre. 2nd Ed 

S. CAJETAN. By R. de Maulde la Clavi^re. 

S. TERESA. By Henri Joly. 4th Edition. 

S. PETER FOURIER. By L. Pingaud. 

BLESSED THOMAS MORE. By Henri Bremond. 2nd Ed. 

S. THOMAS A BECKET. By Mgr. Deraimuid. 

S. PATRICK. By I'Abb^ Riguet. 

THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY. By Ren^ Marie de la Broise. 

Revised Edition. 
BLESSED JOAN OF ARC. By L. Petit de JuUeville. 3rd Ed. 

Vianney. 2nd Edition. 


Z^c ^<kinfe 



(Ui^if oBstat 

Censor deputatus 


Die 8 Sept., 1904. 

Sir Thomas More 

(T'he 'Blessed 'Thomas More) 

^y Henri Bremond 

- Second Edition 

1{^ & T Washbourne Ltd. 
"Paternoster %ow London 

Manchester Birmingham cS" Glasgow 







This little book is not the work of a historian. I 
should not have ventured to undertake it, if the life 
of Sir Thomas More had not been already written 
by a member of the craft. Father Bridgett's work 
is soundly critical ; I have followed it step by step 
and sometimes simply abbreviated it. Needless to 
say I have carefully re-read Mere's works and the 
contemporary documents which the monumental 
collection of the Letters and Papers renders uni- 
versally accessible. My object in doing so was not 
to gather a few trifling discoveries, forgotten or 
overlooked by scholars like Father Bridgett and Mr 
Gairdner, but to give a lively and fresh impression of 
the events, and to become as familiarly as possible 
acquainted with Sir Thomas More. His nature, for 
all its limpidity, is difficult to know thoroughly. 
Ever in earnest and ever in fun, its very transparence 
adds to its mystery, and the extreme variety of its 
gifts is disconcerting. I flattered myself that I could 
paint More exactly as I saw him, but my ambition 
was greater than my strength. The most delicate 
chapters of this life would have to be rewritten, and 
the rest indefinitely retouched. I have not sufficient 
confidence in myself to begin the work again, and I 
must be content to call the reader's attention to the 
documents that will enable him to draw a portrait 


of Sir Thomas More for himself. To any one who 
cares to make the attempt I can promise plenty of 
edification and pleasure. 

A man of letters, a family man, a statesman, and, 
in addition, a man of constant faith and exemplary 
piety, More may become for us all a friend for all 
hours, as Erasmus calls him : omnibus omnium 
horarum homo. Wit and goodwill, wisdom and 
courage, there is nothing that this saint of modern 
times lacks to be enrolled among our dearest patrons 
and models, ut nihil in eo desideres quod ad absolututn 
pertineat patronum. 


Hitherto, by rare good fortune, Sir Thomas More 
has suffered comparatively little at the hands of his 
biographers. Twenty years after his martyrdom, 
his son-in-law, Roper, a worthy soul who made no 
profession to literature, fixed the main lines of his 
life and related the essential anecdotes in a slender^ 
volume which is of infinite value to all students ofl 
More. This work, the starting-point of all sub-\ 
sequent lives of More, circulated from hand to handv 
in manuscript, and was not printed till 1616. Under 
Mary Tudor, Nicholas Harpsfleld, Archdeacon of 
Canterbury, got hold of Roper's work, and undertook, 
apparently, to raise it to the dignity of history. His 
work, a useful, conscientious, and tedious book of 
reference, was never printed, and never deserved to 
be.i However, Thomas Stapleton, a young priest 
of genuine ability who remained in England till the 
accession of Elizabeth, faithfully noted down the 
reminiscences which were confided to him during 
a long intimacy by former members of Sir Thomas 
More's household.^ It is commonly admitted that 

^ Father Morris, who thought of writing a life of More, had 
Harpsfield's MS. copied. This is the copy used by both Father 
Bridgett and myself. 

' John Clements, his children's tutor, who married Margaret 
Gigs, a girl brought up with his family, and John Harris, his 
secretary, who married Dorothy CoUey, Margaret More's maid. 


Stapleton may have consulted Roper's notes at 
leisure, though it is strange that a writer so careful 
always to mention his authorities, has forgotten to 
give references to the earliest and the most authori- 
tative of all. But for Father Bridgett's opinion, I 
should be tempted to raise a doubt on the subject ; 
but in any case, Stapleton's researches are in the 
main at first hand, and his evidence is almost as 
valuable as that of an immediate contemporary. He 
left England, a voluntary exile, for Louvain, and 
there at last set to work to write the lives of the 
three saints whose name he bore — Thomas the 
Apostle, Thomas k Becket, and Thomas More. 

John Harris, More's secretary, and his wife, 
Dorothy Colley, who as a girl had been in the 
service of Margaret More, went into exile with him 
and lived near him, and at every step he could call 
upon them for reminiscences and advice. To John 
Harris we owe several precious letters preserved by 
Stapleton alone. The book was published at Douai 
in 1588 under the title of Tres Thomae, and on the 
whole is excellent. 

Till quite recently, the biographers who followed 
(and happily they were few) did nothing but amalga- 
mate Roper and Stapleton. The most original and 
spiritual of these rhapsodies is the only one that 
need detain us. No doubt, in relating the life of his 
great-grandfather, Cresacre More thought he was 
writing an original work, and took himself in all 
good faith as a witness to tradition. When all is 
said, his additions to his predecessors' work are 
unimportant and always of doubtful authenticity. 


He is a Joinville who never knew St Louis ; and at 
the same time the most deliciously naive, worthy, 
and pious of biographers. 

After Roper and Stapleton, the writer who has 
deserved best of Sir Thomas More is Father Bridgett. 
His book, which followed close on the decree of 
beatification, fulfils the demands of the most minute 
criticism, and may be considered henceforth as the 
classic life of the martyr. Unfortunately it is a mass 
of solid material arranged in no kind of order ; no 
lively image stands out from the relation of events, 
and when at last we close the book we know all 
about its hero, but know him not at all. Mr W. H. 
Hutton's book is written with far more art, and 
makes very attractive reading. I should have liked 
to quote from it often, but the portrait by Holbein 
and Erasmus's letters on More make one exacting, 
and many no doubt will find the book, patient and 
thorough work as it is, a little wanting in originality 
and relief. 

I cannot attempt to enumerate here the shorter 
studies and other essays. There is one, however, 
that deserves to be set apart, and far above the rest, 
the chapter in Sir James Mackintosh's Lives of 
Eminent British Statesmen. The sketch is heavy in 
style but unusually penetrating. After Holbein and 
Erasmus, it is the most intelligent and illuriiinating 
study I have met with. 

In France, where the Utopia was formerly very 
well known, we have not a single original life of 
More. Audin, who long enjoyed the monopoly 
amongst us of everything connected with the Refor- 


mation, had a translation of Stapleton made under 
his supervision, and added notes which are some- 
times interesting.! The little American life by 
Walter has also been translated. Finally, More is 
one of the heroes of D. Nisard's triptych on the 
Renaissance.^ This portrait was drawn con amore, 
and leaves a more precise and vivid impression than 
those of the English historians. At the risk of ap- 
pearing impertinent, I must say that for that very 
reason I have found the book the more irritating. 
In the English Lives we see, at the worst, no por- 
trait at all ; here we certainly have a portrait, but 
one in which it is impossible to recognise the original. 
I must ask pardon in advance for any touches of 
ill-humour I may have chanced here and there to 
show in expressing myself on this subject.* 

^ The translation is often faulty and always very free. It was 
published by Maison in 1849. 

^ D. Kisard : Etudes sur la Renaissance : Erasme, Moras, 
Melancthon. These studies appeared in the Revue des Deux 
Mondes, 1836-1838, and were re-printed in 1855. Though re- 
vised, they remain a youthful work. Nisard prefers to Latinise 
the name of More. 

^ In his two volumes. The Life and Writings of Sir Thomas 
More and The Wit and Wisdom of Blessed Thomas More, Father 
Bridgett has collected not only all the most important documents, 
but also a large number of extracts from More's works. I have 
found it more convenient to refer, whenever possible, to his two 
books. B. i. indicates the Life ; B. ii. the Wit and Wisdom . 


PREFACE . . , , 


YOUTH ..... 

« I 




PRIVATE LIFE ..... 47 


PUBLIC LIFE ...... 77 















" Thotnae Mori ingenio quid unquamfinxit natura velmollius, 
vel dulcius, velfelicius?" (Erasmus, v. 2, Lond. )■ 

" T LOOKED to find a preacher, I find a man." 
* No sooner do we become the least intimate 
with one of the beatified whom the Church appoints 
for our veneration than we reach a similar conclu- 
sion. " I looked to find a saint, one of those vague 
and fabulous beings, that is, whose every word is an 
oracle and their every act a marvel. I find a man." 
We need not point out to the readers of this Series 
that there is nothing more consoling or more edifying 
than such a discovery. We never imagined that our 
patron and model was so accessible, and great is our 
delight at finding that his nearness to ourselves 
is no obstacle to his being also very near to God. 
Sometimes, however, our surprise is almost too 
great. There is a danger that our first vivid glimpse 
of the holy man or woman in the simple reality of 
their lives, and stripped of the veneer of convention 
under which most hagiographers used at one time 
to stifle the originality of their subjects, may dis- 
concert our devotional habit. In all loyalty I must 
admit that Thomas More is of that number. His 


life, indeed, is spotless, and his biographer can 
relate it without para^jhrase or reticence; but in 
such a life as his, it is possible, if I may so express 
it, that a period of sin would be less of a stumbling- 
block than a certain way of speaking and acting 
which agrees but ill with current ideas of saintliness. 
We know very well that saintliness is never pompous 
and willingly leaves grand airs to less genuine virtue. 
The most austere of the saints could smile. There 
is no rule of perfection to forbid their seeing the 
amusing side of things, and their souls, less heavily 
weighted than our own, often attract by a witty 
mixture of kindliness and a touch of malice. And 
yet the lightest of their jests finds a natural setting 
in a chapel or a cloister, and every flower they 
gather takes in their hands the scent of incense. 
This could not be said of Thomas More. At first 
sight he is entirely profane. If to be worldly is to 
look upon this world as a curious spectacle rather 
than to see life as the great stake on which eternity 
depends, then he was worldly. Not that he espoused 
folly ; but his method of despising it was rather that 
of the dilettante than the Christian. Or rather, it 
would be truer to say that he was interested and 
amused by everything. He will close the City oj 
God to open the Dialogues of Lucian. He lays by 
Colet's sermons, to engage in a contest of wit with 
his friends. " All the things of this world amuse him, 
even the most serious. With men of learning he is 
ravished by their wisdom ; with fools, he is delighted 
at their folly. . . . You would take him for a new 
Democritus, or a Pythagorean walking, with unpre- 


judiced mind, about the market-place to contemplate 
the tumult of buyers and sellers." So says Erasmus, 
who knew him better than any one. But that name, 
the name of Erasmus, enables us to shorten our 
comments. At first sight, no doubt, if only at first 
sight, their contemporaries saw no difference be- 
tween Erasmus and More. They were taken for 
twins, and the idea delighted them both. I even 
imagine that in conversation More had more spirit 
and more wit than Erasmus. " From childhood," 
writes Erasmus, " he had such a love for witty jests 
that he seemed to have been sent into the world for 
the sole purpose of making them ; though he never 
descends to buffoonery, neither gravity nor dignity 
seem made for him. He is amiable -and always 
good-tempered, and puts every one who meets him in 
a happy frame of mind." Another intimate friend, 
Richard Pace, says the same thing less gracefully. 
" He speaks with the same facility in Latin as in his 
own language. His sense of fun is joined with 
perfect refinement — you may call humour his father 
and wit his mother. When the matter requires it, 
he can imitate a good cook and serve up the meat 
in sharp sauce. . . . From every philosophic sect he 
culled the best they had to offer ; but at last, as men 
will, he inscribed himself a member of a school, the 
school of Democritus, the philosopher, as I under- 
stand, who laughed at all human affairs. But he 
contrived to go further than his master, nam, ut ille 
humana omnia ridenda censuit, ita hie deridenda." i 

'Bridgett, Mariana, a pamphlet in which More's biographer 
has collected a number of Latin tributes to his hero. 


That was how his intimate friends spoke of him, 
and no doubt this rough sketch was strictly accurate. 
That, beyond question, was the impression More 
left on the London of his time and the Court of 
Henry VIII. Such a sketch as that, of a lively, 
airy, witty, irresponsible person, would certainly 
never have inspired Plandrin with the wish to add a 
new character to the lifeless and majestic procession 
which even now still embodies the common idea of 
a saint. 

That view of him is a perfectly true one, even 
truer than I can express. But there was another 
and still truer Thomas More. The perpetual jester 
is the sweetest-natured of men ; the worldling has 
death constantly in his thoughts; the Democritus 
has the soul of a Carthusian. His intimate friend 
Erasmus knew him well, and his memorable letter 
to Ulrich von Hutten, which gives the final portrait 
of Thomas More, comes to a close in the long per- 
spective of these two lines : cum aniicis sic fabulatur 
de vita futuri saeculi, ut agnoscar ilium ex animo loqui, 
neque sine optima spe. With his friends he so speaks 
of the life of the world to come that you know him 
to be speaking from his heart and not without the 
best of hope. 

Before plunging into the depths of that inner life 
of his, let us take a glance at him, not in his oratory, 
but in the very midst of one of his profane conversa- 
tions, and we shall soon understand how necessary 
it is, in the face of so complex a physiognomy, to 
distrust all hasty conclusions and misleading 


Take his portrait by Holbein. Standing for the 
first time before this wonderful likeness, one cannot 
fail to be struck by an impression of half-sadness. 
More intimate acquaintance soon shows that the 
word " sadness " does not quite hit the note. Melan- 
choly, in the romantic sense of the word, would be 
falser still. His mind is too healthy, his sense of 
humour too quick, and his Christian faith too serene. 
But neither good sense nor internal peace are, 
properly speaking, joy. There is plenty of kindness 
and some shrewdness, but no lively gaiety in his 
veiled and distant look, his small, grey, short-sighted i 
eyes, which, according to a contemporary, " were not 
great, nor yet glittering, yet much pleasing." 2 He 
lacked a kind of expansion and taste for life. He 
was rarely in high spirits. No doubt he was the 
pleasantest of companions ; the gravest unbent when 
he was by. Some unexpected jest was always 
hovering on the delicate lips whose smile has been 
subtly fixed by Holbein ; but he scarcely ever laughed 
himself. Affectionate and faithful, he was slow to 
give his friendship, and then never gave it without 
reserve. Possibly his friends loved him more than 
he loved them, and I am tempted to wonder whether 
his humour did not conceal an invincible reserve or 
some timidity of sentiment. The strange and touch- 
ing story of his two marriages will be found to con- 
firm the first conclusion. 

' More afterwards attributed one of his illnesses to his habit of 
"stooping and leaning on bis breast as he writes" (Letters and 
Papers, vii. 287). 

2 Wordsworth, 4th Ed. II. p. 183. Cf. MSS. Ilarpsfield, 


There is nothing surprising in it, when we call to 
mind the dry and incomplete education More re- 
ceived, one which would have stifled for ever a less 
happy disposition. Later in life he delighted to 
repeat his father's unpolished jests, but of his 
mother he remembered nothing. From her, no 
doubt, he inherited the charm, the indefinable 
attractiveness celebrated by his contemporaries (at 
any rate, if we may trust the portrait by Holbein, 
there can have been nothing whatever of the judge 
in the delicacy and grace that radiated from him 
so discreetly) ; but it seems that there was no 
attempt to find the orphan any feminine tenderness 
in place of the care of his dead mother. The habi- 
tual companions of his boyhood were men of mature 
age, priests and scholars; and, indeed, the marvel 
is that Thomas More, whose childhood was too brief 
and who became serious all too soon, should ever 
have been able to hold out against such an atmos- 
phere, and preserve throughout his life, if not the 
" long hopes," at any rate the spirits, the freshnessi 
and the generosity of youth. 


Almost from his cradle More was entered of a 
good school of wit. As we shall see, his father, the 
judge, had but a poor opinion of things literary. To 
him, perhaps, Erasmus was nothing but a kind of 
idler,! and in any case he was determined that his 

' Erasmus, at any rate, speaks of him without enthusiasm. 


son should be a man of affairs like himself. For 
my own part, I consider that the event proved him 
right. His early connection with practical life 
though it may have made More less learned than 
a pure humanist, resulted at any rate in his in- 
tellect being less bookish, more human. His father, 
moreover, was a judge of the first order. Holbein 
shows him us, at over sixty, with his eyes still 
sparkling with lucid intelligence.^ " Courteous, 
affable, innocent, gentle, merciful, just and uncor- 
rupted" — we are quoting his son — he was both 
loved and feared in the little world of the palace 
for his keen wit. The fact is worth noting, since 
Thomas More, even in boyhood, must have 
sharpened his wit on the paternal sallies. He 
himself has piously saved from shipwreck some of 
the good things which his own were soon to eclipse. 
The judge's pronouncements showed no tenderness 
to women ; " for when he heareth folk blame wives, 
and say that there be so many of them shrews, he 
said that they defame them falsely. For he saith 
plainly that there is but one shrew-wife in the world, 
but he saith indeed that every man weeneth he hath 
her, and that one is his own." Another saying 
of his was that nothing was so much a matter of 
luck as marriage. " If ye should put your hand 
into a blind bag full of snakes and eels together, 
ye would, I ween, reckon it a perilous chance to 
take up one at adventure." Whereupon Father 
Bridgett, with that bland curiosity of his, remarks 
that, " as Sir John More was three times married, 
' Holbein's sketch is at Windsor. 


it would be interesting to know the date of these 
sayings, and whether they embody the fruits of his 
experience, or were a kind of humorous philosophy.' 
And he recalls an epigram of Thomas More's against 
the lovers of witticisms of this kind : — 

" Hoc quisque dicit ; dicit at ducit tamen, 
Quin sex sepultis, septimam ducit tamen."' 

The date of Thomas More's birth seems now to be 
settled beyond question. He was born in the city 
of London on the 7th February 1478, in the seven- 
teenth year of the reign of Edward IV. The civil 
war was then in full swing, and More could recall 
later how, when he was five years old, he heard a 
neighbour predict the coming triumph of the Duke 
of York, who was soon to be known as Richard III. 
At the first school he was sent to he had an ex- 
cellent Latin master, Nicholas Holt, who had 
already taught Latimer and Colet, and was the 
author of a Latin grammar with the alluring title 
of Lac puerorum. The boy was then taken into the 
household of Cardinal Morton,^ Archbishop of 
Canterbury and Chancellor of England. 

The great ecclesiastical dignitaries of those days 
had a certain number of pages in their service, who 
finished their education in this manner. So varied 
and picturesque an existence must have brought 
both pleasure and profit to a boy with the keenness 
and universal interest of Thomas More. It was one 
of the pleasantest recollections and most fruitful 
periods of his life. 

' B. i. 5. * Morton had not yet received the hat. 


Nothing tends more to form and elevate a boy's 
mind than the enthusiastic devotion youth can pay 
to a man of worth in the daily contact of the home 
circle. The Cardinal made a profound impression 
on Thomas More. He stood in the boy's eyes for 
an incarnation of the Church and of devotion to the 
great interests of his country. Long afterwards, 
More was to speak of him in Utopia with a wealth 
of admiration that was rare with him, and a fresh 
and lively gratitude. 

" He was of a mean stature, and though stricken in 
age, yet bare he his body upright. In his face did shine 
such an amiable reverence, as was pleasant to behold, 
gentle in communication, yet earnest and sage." 

What follows admits us more directly into their 
familiar relations, and reveals the sign by which the 
Cardinal had recognised the most confident and 
witty of his proteg&s. 

" He had great delight many times with rough 
speech to his suitors, to prove, but without harm, 
what prompt wit and what bold spirit were in every 
man. In the which, as in a virtue much agreeing 
with his nature, so that therewith were not joined 
impudence, he took great delectation." The future 
Chancellor of Henry VIII. was to have occasion 
later to make use of this kind of excellence, but no 
longer with the same commendation. More con- 
tinues : " In his speech he was fine, eloquent, and 
pithy. In the law he had profound knowledge, in 
wit he was incomparable, and in memory wonderful 
excellent." ^ 

' Uiepia (Robinson's translation). 


His example in ail these matters, the last among 
them, was destined to bear fruit.^ 


" Infinitum, mi Dorpi, fuerit explicare, quam multa 
desuni ei cui Grceca desunt " (" 'Twould be an infinite 
task, dear Dorpius, to explain how much he lacks 
who lacks Greek ").^ That statement shows the am- 
bition with which the boy More, then aged fourteen, 
set out for Oxford. The Cardinal had had no 
difficulty in finding his page a place there, and Sir 
John More had consented to the step, though with 
certain conditions. The Oxford of 1492, the Oxford 
of Grocyn and Linacre, was to every Englishman the 
city of Greek. On his return from Bologna, where 
he had been admitted Doctor, a monk of Canterbury, 
named Sellyng, had opened a Greek class near the 
abbey ; then, taking his best pupil, Thomas Linacre, 
with him, he had returned to Italy and left him in 

^ Mr Hutton further ascribes to the Cardinal's influence Mora's 
robust faith in the Catholicity of the Church. Morton, he says, 
was one of the Archbishops who taught men to forget the claim 
of the English Primate to be alterius orbis papa (p. 9). I need 
not enter here into the question whether, in so doing, Morton 
was breaking, as Mr Hutton says, with "an ancient national 

' Ad Dorp. 40 E. This letter to Dorpius may be found, with 
other letters of More's, at the end of the London edition of the 
letters of Erasmus. Other letters are collected in vol. iii. of 
Jortin's Erasmus (edition of 1808). For Erasmus's letters I have 
gone as a general rule to the London edition. 


the hands of Politian. Linacre was Thomas More's 
tutor ; and thus we have a clear view of the torch 
of the Renaissance passing from hand to hand, 
from the master of Giovanni de Medici to the master 
of Thomas More.^ 

But it was a far cry from the gardens of Lorenzo 
the Magnificent to the poor chambers of Oxford. 
The ardour of study was the same ; but at Oxford 
life remained grave, all but monastic. The coming 
of the Renaissance in England was marked by no 
frivolity, no revival of paganism. Moreover, Sir 
John More had taken precautions against his son's 
indulging in any pleasures beyond the study of 
Aristotle.2 He had no pocket-money. For the 
most insignificant and most necessary expenses he 
must write to London. "It was thus," he would 
say, "that I indulged in no vice or pleasure, and 
spent my time in no vain or hurtful amusements ; I 
did not know what luxury meant, and never learnt 
to use money badly ; in a word, I loved and thought 
of nothing but my studies." * That is all the exact 
information we have on our hero's university career. 
A reference by Richard Pace, his contemporary, and 
himself a brilliant humanist, gives us some idea of his 
method of work. " Here I will remark that no one 
ever lived who did not first ascertain the meaning 
of words, and from them gather the meaning of the 
sentences which they compose — no one, I say, with 

' Cf. Dom Gasquet, The Old English Bible, Essay IX. 
' More himself says in his letter to Dorpius that Linacre ex- 
pounded Aristotle to him. 
3 B. i. lo. 


one single exception, and that is our own Thomas 
More. For he is wont to gather the force of the 
words from the sentences in which they occur, 
especially in his study and translation of Greek. 
This is not contrary to grammar, but above it, and 
an instinct of genius." i It is also, we may add, 
characteristic of an amateur. In fact. More never 
had the time to become a professional scholar. He 
appears, moreover, to have had more aptitude for 
Greek than for Latin. According to Erasmus, 
he owed the supple elegance we admire in his 
writings to nothing but dogged application. He 
spoke Latin, of course, as fluently as his mother- 
tongue. He knew also " French, arithmetic, and 
geometry," devoured all the books on history that 
came into his hands, and played becomingly on the 
flute and viol. 

At the end of two years his father summoned him 
back to London. The judge was afraid the love of 
Greek might turn the young man from the career he 
had chosen for him. More obeyed the summons. 
In February 1496, he was admitted of Lincoln's 
Inn as a student of law. He was then eighteen. 
Here again he soon distinguished himself. He was 
called to the bar in 1501, and was shortly afterwards 
appointed three years in succession as lecturer to 
the students and minor persons of the Palace, a 
mark of esteem which led to his being selected later 
to interpret the law before his colleagues of the bar 
and before the judges themselves (1511). In 1504 
he entered Parliament. 

' B. i. 12. 



There is no need to linger in the courts of justice. 
The real More is not to be found there. Like many 
others, he devoted the best of his time to work he 
did not care for ; but, thorough Englishman that he 
was, he was always able to withdraw at a given 
moment from his professional career and return to 
himself. We will rejoin him in his real life with all 
the speed we may. 

No better moment could be found, for it was now 
that the young man, whose only duty it had been 
so far to let himself be led, began to enjoy the full 
liberty of choosing his own course. His first pro- 
ceeding was to look for a room close to the Charter 
House in London, where he might live in meditation 
and prayer. So far as he could he followed the 
offices of his neighbours. The rest of his leisure 
was spent in study. The very few friends he had 
made were no distraction from work and from 
thought on God. We know their names: Colet, 
the Dean of St Paul's, whom he had taken for his 
confessor; the Hellenist, Grocyn, rector of St 
Lawrence Jewry ; the other great Hellenist of 
the day, Linacre, IWore's old tutor, who had also 
returned to the capital; and finally, and in the 
absence of Erasmus, who was the dearest of all, 
William Lilly, the young and attractive scholar, who, 
after his Oxford years, had gone to perfect his Greek 
in the Isle of Rhodes. Lilly was living actually in 


the Charter House, and thus, being next door to 
each other, they met frequently. For practice, as 
they said, the two friends amused themselves by 
translating epigrams from the Anthologia into Latin 
verse ; and their respective versions were published 
together in the same book, with the charming title 
of Progymnasmata Thomae Mori et GuUelmi Lilii 

But the Anthologia was not Thomas More's usual 
reading. The Fathers of the Church, and especially 
St Augustine, interested him more, and he even 
gave a course of lectures on the de Civitate Dei in 
the church of St Lawrence, which Grocyn had 
placed at his disposal. 

The ardent and rigid figure of Dean Colet is worth 
lingering over. As with nearly all the great Catholic 
reformers, attempts have been made to rob us of 
him, and Mr Seebohm has employed for the purpose 
an audacity of conjecture which is no part of a 
historian's equipment. But it has yet to be demon- 
strated that because a man admits that abuses have 
crept into the life of the Churchy because he deplores 
them and combats them, he is therefore of necessity 
a Lutheran. For all his somewhat anxious tempera- 
ment and slightly obstinate mind, the Dean of St 
Paul's was a priest of great sanctity, who never 
either did or wrote a single thing that could justify a 
doubt of the perfect orthodoxy of his faith. If some 
of his brethren attacked him fiercely as an innovator, 
there were others, as many in number and of in- 
disputable authority, who remained faithful to him 
throughout; and More himself proves that Colet's 


name was not, in fact, that of a suspect, when, in 
his letter to a monk who was strongly opposed to 
the new ideas, he praises Longland by simply calling 
him another Colet: "Alter, ut eius laudes uno verba 
compleetar, Coletus." ^ 

In other respects the natural affinities between 
Colet and Thomas More were but distant. They 
were united by the same Christian ideas and the 
same taste for letters. Colet was one of the few 
preachers iVIore could endure ; and, last but not 
least, the young barrister, who was then passing 
through a critical period, was indebted to his con- 
fessor for much kindness, wisdom, and decision. 
More was at that time considering whether he ought 
not to renounce the world entirely, and it was 
probably on Colet's advice that he gave up all idea 
of a religious vocation. 

It was Erasmus who, in summing up in one word 
the history of that crisis, let loose, in all innocence, 
the imagination of Thomas More's biographers. 
Obviously, I do not include Father Bridgett and Mr 
Hutton, but the sober Nisard has been caught out 
in a solemn blunder. " At twenty years of age," he 
writes, " the voice of the senses begins to be heard. 
In spite of his habitual austerity, his poverty, and 
his ardour for work, the Oxford scholar {he had left 
Oxford two years before) was disturbed by unknown 
desires." ^ He continues complacently in that strain 
till he reaches this exquisitely tasteful conclusion : 
" The young man, however, had defeat in prospect. 

1 Jortin, Erasmus, iii. 383. 

' itudes sur la Renaissance, p. 163. 


Two means of escaping it were always open to him 
— a monastery and marriage. His conscience was 
offended at the thought of a monastery ; within its 
walls he would have been disgusted, or perhaps 
tempted by evil example. Marriage attracted him, 
in spite of the epigrams he had made on women ; 
and he took refuge from profligacy in a holy 
union." ^ 

And now to return to Erasmus. The brusque 
simplicity of his statement tastes better than this 
mixture of vulgarity and sickliness. What the 
recipient of Thomas More's confidence says is : 
"Maluit igitur maritus esse castus quam sacerdos 
impurus." ^ The first impression these words convey 
is that More, being uncertain of his strength, and 
also not feeling himself clearly called to a more 
perfect life, decided to live as a Christian in a state 
of wedlock rather than make a bad priest. And 
that, in fact, is the truth of his story. For some 
time he thought seriously of becoming a Franciscan ; 
then he gave up the idea for the simple reason that 
I have just stated. It is really a puerile proceeding 
to build up all this romance of " unknown desires " ^ 
on such a foundation ; and we reach the acme of 
nonsense with M. Nisard when he asks us to see in 
Thomas More a " Christian who found the cloister 
too mild to confine his rebellious youth." * 

' itudis sur la Renaissance, p. 167. 

" In the famous letter to Ulrich von Hutten, to which we shall 

' Father Bridgett says in this connection : "That was a matter 
*br More himself and his confessor." That is to write like a 
gentleman. * Ibid., p. 185. 


Others, still starting from the words of Erasmus, 
have gone further than Nisard, or at least have 
expatiated at greater length on the monastic 
corruption which they suppose to have compelled 
More to resign himself, as a last resource, to 
marriage. I am content to confine my answer to 
the words of an Anglican historian : " It is absurd to 
assert that More was disgusted with monastic 
corruption — ^that he ' loathed monks as a disgrace to 
the Church.' He was throughout his life a warm 
friend of the religious orders, and a devoted admirer 
of the monastic ideal. He condemned the vices of 
individuals; he said, as his great-grandson says, 
'that at that time religious men in England had 
somewhat degenerated from their ancient strictness 
and fervour of spirit ' ; but there is not the slightest 
sign that his decision to decline the monastic life 
was due in the smallest degree to a distrust of the 
system or a distaste for the theology of the 
Church." I 

Briefly, in the spring of 1505 Thomas More 
married. He certainly never dreamed when he did 
so that so natural a step would one day let loose 
such a flood of sour ink. I shall come soon to the 
delightful story of his betrothal to Jane Colt ; but 
before closing this chapter on the youth of Thomas 
More, we must pause for a moment on a work to 
which he devoted himself during the first year of 
his married life, and in which he seems to have 
wished to sum up for his own use the best lessons 
of the Renaissance. 

' Hutton, pp. 27, 28. 


The work I mean is a little book that appeared in 
1510, with the following old-world title: The life of 
yohn Picus Erie of Myrandula, a great horde of 
Italy, an excellent connyng man in all sciences, and 
vertuous of lining : with diners epistles and other 
workes of ye sayd John Picus, fnll of greate science, 
vertue, and wisedome : whose life and woorkes bene 
worthy and digne to be read, and often to be had in 
memory. Translated ont of latin into Englishe by 
maister Thomas More. 

I am quite aware that the name of Pico della 
Mirandola stands to most people for that of a 
swash-buckler of dogmatism, and that the young 
scholar has paid heavily with us for the swaggering 
titles of his theses. But our misprision is unjust. 
Looked at a little closer, Pico della Mirandola is 
still to-day what he was to his contemporaries, the 
hero, the Prince Charming of the Renaissance. 
When this pilgrim of universal knowledge, " not 
unlike," as Pater says, "the archangel Raphael 
... or Mercury, as he might have appeared in a 
painting by Sandro Botticelli," entered that famous 
chamber where a lamp burned day and night before 
the bust of Plato, Ficino, that old pagan, " seems 
to have thought there was something not wholly 
earthly about him ; at least, he ever afterwards 
believed that it was not without the co-operation 
of the stars that the stranger had arrived on that 


day," 1 Ficino was captured like every one else, and 
theyfell at once into an intimate and serious conversa- 
tion. Ficino himself has related, in a dedication 
to Lorenzo de Medici, the story of his fascination, 
and hov? the visit determined him to undertake the 
translation of Plotinus. Let it be remembered 
further that the cell of the prior of St Mark's saw 
just another such scene. Savonarola loved the 
young prince dearly. He would have liked to make 
him one of his monks; and though that joy was 
denied him he at least had the sweet and mournful 
honour of burying his disciple's body in the hood 
and white frock of the Dominican order. 

This double friendship supplies a happy symbol 
of the philosophy of Pico and Thomas More. Ficino 
and Savonarola, the Christian asceticism that could 
go courageously even to the "folly of the Cross," 
and a kind of exaltation of humanity that threatened 
a return to paganism — these two extreme tend- 
encies meet in Christian humanism and mingle into 
harmony. More had not the leisure to set forth 
in didactic form this reconciliation of Plato and the 
Gospels, and if he had set hand to the work, he 
would never, solid Englishman that he was, have 
brought nearer to earth the adventurous and some- 
times bizarre mysticism of Pico della Mirandola; 
but the kinship between the two minds, the two 
souls, is plain. " Like the Italian humanist," says 
Mr Hutton, " More was penetrated with the sense 
of the beauty and the mystery of life. Rich colours 
and the strange recesses of occult investigation, the 
' Walter Pater, Tie Renaissance, Pico della Mirandola, 


quaintness of old-world learning, and the pure human 
beauty of classic ideals of literature and art, the 
thrilling chords of music and the simple innocence 
of animal life, the triumph of self-sacrifice, the joys 
of friendship and of love, the thoughts of Plato 
and the divine mysteries of the Christian religion, 
appealed each in their turn to his sensitive con- 
sciousness, and ascetic though he was his innet 
contemplation never blinded him to the loveliness 
of human life. Pico was as far removed from the 
ignorant bigotry satirized in the Letters of obscure 
men as from the scarce veiled Paganism of many 
disciples of the New Learning. To him it did 
not seem that Christianity was less true because 
Paganism was so beautiful, and the same thought 
was never absent from the mind of More." ^ 

I must crave the reader's indulgence if he finds 
that this first chapter leaves him still in the clouds. 
Greek and legal procedure, Erasmus and Pico della 
Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino and Savonarola, the 
Renaissance and Catholic reform, all these sug- 
gestions packed into twenty pages cannot fail to 
give more smoke than light. The writer, no doubt, 
is to blame ; but the fault lies to some extent in 
the subject too. If it is impossible to define the 
simplest of living souls exactly, how can we hope 
to understand so rich and diverse a nature so early 
in its career, when it is but just emerging from the 
confusion of youthful years ? And there is more ; 
the most perplexing of the antinomies we have 
propounded, antinomies which still weigh on us 
' Hutton, p. 35. 


after a lapse of four centuries, are not those that 
can be resolved into clear formulas. Solvitur 
amhulando. By contemplating Thomas More as 
he lived, we shall the better understand how a 
Christian can renounce nothing of what is nobly 
"human," and still remain faithful to the "hard 
words" of the Gospel. 



A scholar brotherhood, high-souled and complete (J. C. 
Shairp, A Remembrance). 

Erasmus, my darling, is my dear darling still (More, Dial., 
p. 422). 

Ab aliis persuasi credunt, plus ab ea ipsa (Moria) dictum, quam 
dictum sit : alioqui fors non succensuri, si ea ipsa quae dicuntur 
ipsi intelligerent (Mori ad Dorpium, p. 41 B). 

T HAVE already mentioned that the contem- 
* poraries of Thomas More's youth liked to 
associate his name with that of Erasmus. At this 
distance of time such a conjunction is a constant 
surprise and source of anxiety. If there had been 
nothing between these two humanists but a close 
bond of friendship, Greek, strictly speaking, might 
explain everything. But that loophole is closed to 
us. On both sides the sympathy was full and entire. 
No amount of searching will reveal one single line 
of More that could be construed as containing the 
slightest disavowal of the work and thought of 
Erasmus. On the contrary, there are many 
passages, and those decisive, in which the future 
martyr adopts all his friend's thoughts and defends 
them out and out. What course are we to take ? 
Must we surrender the author of The Praise of Folly 
to the Protestants or the Freethinkers, and with 


him thirty years and more of the intellectual life of 
Thomas More ? If the facts demand it, we will 
make the sacrifice, however heavy. Or, on the 
other hand, are we to join the early biographers of 
More in an attempt to establish a quarrel between 
the two friends on the earliest possible opportunity, 
and conjure up at all costs some means of separating 
them ? We are prepared to do that too, on the 
understanding that justice and truth allow it. But 
in any case we must give them a hearing before we 
judge them. They have both taken us into their 
confidence, and if one of them seems a little too 
elusive, the other, and the only one to interest us 
directly in this chapter, offers a transparent sincerity. 
I am aware, too, that an unauthoritative biographer 
would be ill-advised to attempt to conduct so delicate 
an interrogatory on his own account, and mean to 
confine myself to following step by step the pro- 
ceedings of two masters whose knowledge and 
orthodoxy are unquestioned, Dom Gasquet, the 
Primate of the English Benedictines,^ and Father 
Bridgett, the official biographer of Blessed Thomas 


Erasmus, as every one knows, spent several fairly 
long periods in England. His first visit took place 
in 1497, when Mofe was beginning his second year 

1 Dom Gasquet has devoted a long chapter of his Eve of the 
Reformation to Erasmus, 


of the l?iw. Erasmus was some ten years older than 
the young student. They met probably at the house 
of William Blount, Lord Mountjoy, who had been a 
pupil of the already famous humanist's in Paris. 
Erasmus soon left London for Oxford, but from the 
tone of the letters he wrote at that time to More, it 
is clear that a firm and affectionate friendship was 
beginning between them. They could meet, too, 
from time to time. One day when Erasmus was 
resting at Lord Mountjoy's country house, More 
came to see him and proposed to take him to the 
next village. There they found the whole of Henry 
Vn.'s family with the exception of prince Arthur. 
The king's children gave them audience in great 
state, Henry, aged nine, but already possessed with 
a sense of his own importance, two little princesses, 
and a child in the nurse's arms. " More," writes 
Erasmus, "... after saluting prince Henry, pre- 
sented him with I know not what writing. As I was 
entirely taken by surprise I had nothing to offer, 
and I was obliged to make a promise that I would 
write something to show my respect. I was some- 
what vexed with More for not warning me, and 
especially so since the prince while we were dining 
sent me a note asking some fruit of my pen. I went 
home and in spite of the Muses, from whom I had 
long been separated, I finished my poem within 
three days." ^ 

Prince Henry we shall meet again. Meanwhile 
Erasmus, on his return to the Continent, praised his 

' B. i. 39, 40. The scene took place between February 1499 
and January 1500. 


English friends to the skies : the kindness of Prior 
Charnock, his Oxford host, the learning of Colet, and 
the " suavity " of More. 

Towards the end of 1505 he crossed the Channel 
again. This time he went straight to More's. More 
had been married for some months, and his house 
was assiduously frequented by an academy of 
Hellenists — Colet, Grocyn, Linacre, and Lilly. The 
delight of the band of scholars may easily be 
imagined. In their ardour for work, and with a view 
to tempering their " humour" anew at a good spring, 
the two friends made use of the interval to turn 
several dialogues of Lucian into Latin. More chose 
the most caustic, and, not to neglect his profession ^' 
of barrister too completely, occupied himself in 
writing a declamation on tyrannicide in imitation of 
the same author. He wished Erasmus to follow his 
example. " If he bade me to dance on the tight- 
rope," said Erasmus, " I should obey without a 
murmur." And he published his declamation with 
a preface in which More is not forgotten. " Unless 
my ardent love blinds me, nature never made any 
one so ready of wit, so keen-sighted, so shrewd. 
His intellect is equalled by his power of speech ; 
and his suavity is so great, his humour so keen yet 
so innocuous, that he has every quality of a perfect 
advocate." Coming down to detail, he adds the 
following lines, which we feel to be very just : " The 
style of his oratory approaches more the structure 
and dialectic subtlety of Isocrates than the limpid 
stream of Cicero, although in urbanity he is in no 
way inferior to Tully. He paid so much attention 


in his youth to writing poetry, that you may now 
discern the poet in his prose compositions." ^ 

We have now reached the critical moment, the 
year 1508, in which Erasmus returned once more to 
England, and again came to stay with Thomas More. 
Some weeks later, while he was riding in difficult 
country at the mercy of his mule, he was seized 
with an idea which struck him as a splendid find. 
He communicated it to his host. More was not the 
man to throw cold water on any project of the kind ; 
he encouraged Erasmus, egged him on, prompted 
him with a few jests of his own, until at length, by 
the end of a few weeks, The Praise of Folly was 
finished. The very title of the famous little book, 
the Encomium Moriae, set a seal, so to speak, on the 
literary brotherhood of the two friends, and stood 
for a pleasant reminder that the work had been 
written under Thomas More's roof and in collabora- 
tion, of a kind, with the future author of Utopia. 

Collaboration, we say ; but More was not content 
with encouraging Erasmus and defending him. In 
the campaign of which The Praise of Folly is the 
most famous episode, he stood shoulder to shoulder 
with his friend and fired a shot himself. The 
pamphlet he composed has all the biting wit and the 
dashing attack of the Moria itself. In 1516, before 
the outburst of Luther, he still declared that for his 
own part he could not have wished the suppression 
of a single line of Erasmus's epigrams against the 
monks,^ and about the same time he himself was 

' B. i. 82, 83. 

" " Non miror nil in eis reperisse te quod mutari velles, sicuti 
nee ego certe " {Ad Dorpium, 41 F). 


indulging in a few piquant anecdotes on the same 
themfe. Devout as he was and singularly attached 
to the Blessed Virgin, he was merciless in ridiculing 
certain devotions which he judged superstitious, 
though it may be noted that in all these matters his 
touch is more delicate and lighter than that of 

Their friendship continued without a cloud. In 
1517 More was languishing, a reluctant ambassador, 
at Calais. Erasmus and Peter Giles sent him their 
portraits, just finished by Quentin Matsys, from 
Antwerp. " Peter," wrote Erasmus, " pays one-half 
of the cost, and I the other. Either of us would 
gladly have paid the whole, but we wished the gift 
to be from both." ^ More was delighted, and replied 
with an outburst of affection. " You cannot believe, 
my Erasmus, my darling Erasmus (the erasmiotatos 
is untranslatable), how this eagerness of yours to 
bind me still more closely to you, has heightened 
my love for you. . . . You know me so well that 
I need not labour to prove to you that, with all my 
faults, I am no great boaster. Yet, to tell the truth, 
there is one craving for glory I cannot shake off, 
and it is wonderful how sweetly I am elated when the 
thought occurs to me that I shall be commended to 
the most distant ages by the friendship, the letters, the 
books, the pictures of Erasmus." ^ The year before. 
More had written his famous letter to Dorpius in 
defence of The Praise of Folly, In 1520 appeared 

' I do not refer, of course, to his Latin, which is not so good as 
his friend's. 
^ B. i. 109. ^ B. i. 109, no. 


his letter to a monk who had sent him certain vile 
slanders against Erasmus. But he was already 
absorbed by affairs of State, and soon afterwards by 
the struggle against Protestantism. The two friends, 
however, did not lose sight of each other ; they con- 
tinued to correspond, and always in the same tone, 
and we shall see before long how, even in his 
struggle with the Lutherans, More remained sensi- 
tive to every attack on Erasmus's orthodoxy, and 
claimed that quality stoutly for his " dear darling." 


In its main lines, the history of this famous 
friendship is known. It is both sad and amusing 
to see how usually serious and sincere biographers 
have fallen victims to the temptation to attenuate 
or amplify the facts, so as to fit them to their 
wishes. So legends are born. Stapleton, who was 
a staunch Catholic controversialist in the campaign 
against Protestantism, is unable to stomach the 
idea that More can have remained a friend of 
Erasmus. To him, as to nearly all his contem- 
poraries, Erasmus is nothing but a forerunner of 
Luther, and therefore, by one of those unconscious 
sophisms of which we are all capable, he will have 
it that, sooner or later, his hero must have arrived 
at the same conclusion. " Their common devotion 
to letters," he writes, "was the cause of More's 
having a greater affection for Erasmus than for 
any one ; and Erasmus justly returned it to the full. 
The friendship, however, was rather honourable to 


Erasmus than beneficial to More, and in proportion 
as the heresy hatched from the terrible egg laid by 
Erasmus grew bigger, More's affection diminished 
little by little and continued to cool." Every word 
of that is clearly cut to pattern — the pattern of 
legend. What says history ? " In the interests 
of truth," says Father Bridgett, " I must declare 
at the outset that I cannot find the very slightest 
foundation for the assertion of Stapleton, copied by 
Cresacre More and many others, that in the course 
of time their friendship cooled. Abundant proofs of 
the contrary will appear as we proceed." i Stapleton 
insists on it. Vague rumour gives him ground for 
the statement that More implored his friend to 
publish a book of retractations, and that Erasmus, 
not content with neglecting his advice, took care 
to destroy the compromising letter. Nee has Mori 
litteras superesse passus est. The ingenuity of this 
rash conclusion is undeniable, but there is better 
still to follow. In a book he published towards the 
end of his life, at the height of the Protestant 
agitation. More expressed himself clearly on the 
subject of Erasmus. That, beyond question, is the 
place in which to look for his last word. Stapleton 
does not ignore it. He prints the passage in his 
book; but, in consequence of the involuntary 
blindness we have mentioned, he either did not 
see, or perhaps forgot, the last lines, which happen to 
be a decisive profession of affection and confidence. 

" For had I found," writes More, " with Erasmus 
my darling the shrewd intent and purpose that I 
1 B. i. 39- 


find in Tyndale, Erasmus my darling should^be no 
more my darling." 

Stapleton purposely stops at the conditional, 
which seems to open the door to conjecture. The 
phrase and the thought of More ended thus : — 

" But I find in Erasmus my darling that he 
detesteth and abhorreth the errors and heresies 
that Tyndale plainly teacheth and abideth by, and 
therefore Erasmus my darling shall he my dear 
darling still." i Cresacre More, too, takes good 
care not to quote the whole passage. He even 
heightens it, and either — good-naturedly or acutely 
— changes the meaning of the phrase by changing 
the tenses of the verbs : " If my darling Erasmus 
hath translated 2 ... he shall be no more my 

But these little liberties taken with the truth 
bring no advantage to their authors ; Stapleton's 
clumsy apology all but succeeds in compromising 
his hero. To say that later in life More threw ofiF 
his infatuation and broke with a dangerous friend 
is to insinuate, or at any rate to leave room for 
supposing, that their early relations had not been 
entirely free from imprudence. Nothing more was 
needed to let loose the imagination of another 
category of biographers. 

Here we come upon the birth of a new legend, 
the legend of Thomas More, the doubting and dis- 
satisfied Catholic whose faith was under suspicion, 
and no less than Erasmus, a forerunner of Pro- 
testantism. "The young ascetic," writes Nisard, 

^English Works, p. 422. 'Pp. 11 1, 112. 


" the Christian who had found the cloister too mild 
to confine his rebellious youth, the polemic writer 
who was going to defend the cause of Catholicism 
with such ardour, had experienced that slacken- 
ing of the opinions, that failing of the spirit 
through which we all pass about that age" (a 
historian should not be in such haste to credit a 
Christian of 1510 with the sentiments through 
which " we pass " in the nineteenth century), " and 
which make us tolerant in matters of religion, in- 
telligent and moderate in our judgment on all 
subjects, unimpassioned reformers, and as reserved 
in negation as in affirmation. In proclaiming 
liberty of religion in Utopia, Morus comes nearer 
to philosophic doubt than to the Roman faith. His 
mind had been sweetened without being corrupted 
by his occupation with public affairs, and by his 
knowledge of human interests, and glory, which 
disposes men to benevolence. His tolerance was no 
more than a just view of things, a kindly philosophy 
founded on Christian humanity. ..." 

It would be impossible to caress one's own image 
more fondly, for, as a matter of fact, not one of 
these features bears the slightest resemblance to 
Thomas More. Henry VIII.'s chancellor was cer- 
tainly " tolerant," more tolerant than any, but by no 
means in the sense claimed for him under the reign 
of Louis Philippe. Merely from the point of view of 
criticism, we should need triple evidence before 
ascribing to such a man, and even to Erasmus, the 
lukewarm and infinitely diluted Christianity which 
Nisard thinks to honour him by claiming for him. 


The portrait, such as it is, is a pure invention, and 
all this psychology springs from a simple logical 
deduction. Erasmus was a sceptic: More was 
devoted to Erasmus : therefore More was a sceptic. 
"These two men," concludes Nisard, "touch and 
agree at all points. The prudence of Erasmus 
takes on in Morus's eyes the colour of his own toler- 
ance. His leaning towards doubt meets in Morus a 
drowsy faith which is only to be woken by the 
resounding voice of Luther. Let Luther hurl his 
words, so soon to turn to swords, into the world of 
Christendom, and Morus and Erasmus, till then so 
clearly joined in love, will be less devoted (here speaks 
Stapleton). Erasmus will say of Morus that, if 
there is anything in religious matters he inclines 
to, it is rather superstition than religion : Morus 
will hold of Erasmus that if he refuses active and 
incessant controversy with Luther it is because 
he has a secret leaning towards heresy." ^ 

Really, we are at a loss for words when we find a 
perfectly honest man in all good faith writing like 
this. For the fact is that it is all flagrant invention. 
I have already quoted the formal statement by which 
More defends his friend from all suspicion of heresy. 
It is true that a letter of his, written in 1526, be- 
trays some slight anxiety, on account not of the 
orthodoxy, but of the courage of Erasmus, who 
seemed just then hesitating to publish the second 
volume of a promised work against Luther. And, 
moreover, this letter, which is a beautiful piece of 
work, is of the kind that a man addresses only to his 
1 Pp. i86, 187, 


intimate, his most intimate friends.^ As to the sup- 
posed expression of Erasmus, Nisard is particularly 
unfortunate. The letter in which, no doubt, he be- 
lieved himself to have found it, is entirely devoted to 
the praise and defence of More. More had just retired 
into private life, and the Protestants were tearing his 
name to pieces. Erasmus has no trouble in showing 
that the Chancellor had not evaded his duty in his 
treatment of heretics. " More detests these seditious 
doctrines (i.e. Luther's) which are now so lamentably 
disturbing the world. He makes no mystery of his 
sentiments on that point, for he is so given to piety 
that if he leaned in the least degree to one side or 
the other, it would be in the direction of superstition 
rather than impiety." ^ Writers are at liberty to 
indulge in psychological fantasies about these two 
men as much as they please, but they must give up 
all hope of summoning them as witnesses against 
each other. They loved each other, understood 
each other, and championed each other to the end. 


They cannot be separated; no sooner is one on 
his trial than the other takes his place beside him, 
and one verdict must condemn or acquit them both. 
The charge against them is that they paved the way 
for the rebellion of Luther by too much activity in 

1 B. i. 277-79. 

^ " Sic addictus pietati ut si in alterutram partem aliquantulum 
inclinet momentum, superstitioni quam impietati vicinior esse 
videatur" (London edition, p. 1505, B. i. 246). 
C '8 


the war against the abuses the Church then suffered 
from. What have they to say in their defence ? 

They call witnesses. If Erasmus were the only 
prisoner, he would only have to repeat that up till 
the very end, up till martyrdom, Thomas More, his 
friend of more than thirty years, had continued to 
extend him his friendship and his confidence. But 
we need other witnesses than More himself, and I 
know none in the whole century of more authority 
than the saintly Bishop Fisher. He too, no doubt, 
was a personal friend, but the friendship of such a 
man is in itself a presumption of the prisoner's 
innocence. "Fisher," says Father Bridgett, "was 
always thoroughly convinced of the sincerity of the 
attachment of Erasmus to the Church." ^ It is well 
known that he had decided to take him as his 
theologian in the Council of Lateran. He strongly 
approved and encouraged the labours of the Chris- 
tian humanist on the Scriptures and the Fathers. 
Erasmus, for his part, wrote to the saintly bishop 
with the fullest freedom and confidence. He 
broaches in this letter, and very vigorously, the 
subject of the abuses which both observed in the 
Church. He feels that to him he may open his 
heart without reticence. May it not be that that is 
where we should look for the real Erasmus, for his 
inmost soul ? Here we have no more frivolity or 
sarcasm ; there is nothing to tempt him to reveal 
and exaggerate the less lofty tendencies of his 
nature ; and we are seized with affectionate gratitude 
and admiration at the thought of the great man who 
' Bridgett, Life of Blessed John Fisher, p. loi. 


gave ear to the daring reformer, and in so doing 
compelled him to purify his zeal and moderate the 
vivacity of his attack. Many other English bishops, 
and some of the most famous, Wolsey, Warham, 
Fox, and Tunstall, thought and acted in the same 

The Praise of Folly dates from 1508. Twice, in 
1511 and 1513, the author of this hotly discussed 
little book was appointed Professor of Theology at 
Cambridge. " The electing body," as Sir Richard 
Jebb points out, "was the whole Faculty of 
Theology, regulars as well as seculars. ... If 
Erasmus was not universally acceptable to the 
schoolmen or to the monks of Cambridge, at any 
rate the general respect for his character and 
attainments carried the day." i " His labours gained 
him the support and approbation of many of the 
holiest and most learned bishops of the Continent." ^ 
Finally, not to mention Leo X., who enjoyed the 
Moria more than any one, there were other Popes, 
Adrian VI., Clement VII., and Paul III., who 
lavished attentions on Erasmus, some, no doubt, a 
little disconcerting, but all marks of affection and 
confidence; and everybody knows that Thomas 
More's friend might, if he had liked, have died a 
Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. 

Moreover, about that time the word " reform " 
was so far from being what it was soon to become 
with Luther, a synonym for rebellion, that it was 
constantly on the lips or the pens of the most 

' Jebb, Erasmus, Rede Lecture. 
' Bridgett, J. Fisher, p. loi. 


saintly and orthodox men. The Church would be 
neither divine nor Hving were she not constantly 
concerned with her own reformation ; and it is a 
gratuitous insult to credit heresy with the monopoly 
of this continually necessary process. There is no 
need to repeat here the reasons which made this 
necessity more urgent on the morrow of the great 
schism and the dawn of the modern era. All we 
are concerned to remember now is that, with the 
exception of a few reactionaries, the whole world 
was agreed on the foundation of the dispute. 

Froude himself has said as much: "You cannot 
understand the sixteenth century till you recognise 
the immense difference then present in the minds 
of men between a change of doctrine and a reforma- 
tion of the Church's manners and morals." ^ No 
doubt the excessive haste and self-conceit of some 
of those who denounced the abuses laid them open 
to the danger of setting themselves before the 
Church, and it is only natural that in the smoke of 
the first battles the heretics of the morrow and the 
Catholics of all time should seem indistinguishable. 
" It is quite possible," says Father Bridgett — and 
there is nothing out of the question in the idea — 
" that had Fisher and Colet, Luther and Erasmus, 
met together at the house of Sir Thomas More in 
1512, they would have conversed on the state of the 
Church and of the world with a seemingly cordial 
unanimity." ^ 

The future, however, was to reveal the secret and 

^ Froude, Life and Letters of Erasmus, Lecture XIV. 
' Bridgett, Fisher, p. 103. 


incurable antagonism which thenceforth separated 
the Reformers ; and though Erasmus is still a bone 
of contention, it is quite clear that a decided Catholic 
like More believed him to be as faithful and staunch 
as Colet or Fisher. Not a word did he speak or 
write that could justify his being set down a 
rebel. Erasmus, says Father Gasquet, was " keenly 
alive to the spiritual wants of the age," but " is often 
perhaps injudicious in the manner in which he 
advocated reforms. But when the matter is sifted 
to the bottom, it will commonly be found that his 
ideas are just." ^ That was More's opinion too; 
and as for excess and imprudence in polemics, he 
felt himself as guilty as his friend, and joined him in 
pleading extenuating circumstances. 

He begins by recalling the extraordinary violence, 
injustice, and even — the word is not too strong— the 
madness of the attacks he was daily subjected to. 
From the throne of Christianity, Erasmus's New 
Testament was denounced as one of the signs of the 
coming of Antichrist. Queen Catherine's confessor, 
a Dominican bishop, declared to his penitent that in 
correcting St Jerome, Erasmus had committed an 
unpardonable crime.^ The name of St Jerome 
was ill chosen, and More, forgetting his usual 
moderation, wrote : " The labours of Jerome were 
ruined by the same plagues as now attack the 
labours of Erasmus, the envy and the ignorance 
of those whom he wished to serve." ^ Not only was 

1 Gasquel, The Eve of the Reformation, pp. 155, 156. 

= /«</., p. 178. 

' Jortin, Erasmus, vol. iii. 373, 


all critical study of the Bible and the Fathers de- 
nounced ; Greek itself became an accursed language, 
and all the Hellenists sold to the devil. One day a 
theologian preached a sermon before Henry VIII. 
in which he fulminated against the study of Greek. 
Richard Pace, one of those whom it most concerned, 
was sitting next to Thomas More. Pace looked at 
the king to see how he was taking it, and seeing him 
smile, knew that Greek would win the day. When 
the sermon was over, the theologian was summoned 
to the king's presence and compelled to defend his 
statements against Thomas More, who was charged 
with the defence of the Greek language. The con- 
test was too unequal. Defeated out of hand, the 
unhappy preacher fell on his knees for pardon, 
declaring that he believed himself to have followed 
the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The king asked 
him if he had read the writings of Erasmus. He 
was obliged to confess that he had not. " Then," said 
the king, " by this you prove your folly, in condemn- 
ing what you have not read." It was often thus, 
and as Erasmus sadly remarks, " This ... I gene- 
rally find to be the case, that none are more bitter 
in their outcry than they who do not read what I 
write." 1 The heat of these battles is still only too 
evident in More's famous letter to the University 
of Oxford : — 

" When in London he had heard of a faction at 
Oxford calling themselves Trojans, either out of 
hatred of Greek studies or from love of fun. . . . 
These Trojans v/ere accustomed to jeer at and 


otherwise molest all the students of Greek. He had 
thought these were merely the regrettable folHes of 
young men ; but ... he has found that the folly is 
growing into madness, and that one of these Trojans, 
a man wise in his own esteem and merry in the 
judgment of others, but who must be counted in- 
sane by all who consider his conduct, has in a 
public sermon, in the sacred time of Lent, raved not 
only against Greek literature and Latin culture, 
but most liberally against all liberal arts. . . . 
What greater infamy could be offered to the func- 
tion of the preacher than that the preacher himself, 
in the holiest time of the year, before a great 
assembly of Christian men, in the very temple of 
God, ... in the presence of the venerable Body of 
Christ, should turn a Lenten sermon into a 
Bacchanalian farce ? As to his attack on all 
secular studies, if the good man had long with- 
drawn from the world and spent years in the desert, 
and suddenly coming from his solitude, had urged 
his hearers to give themselves to watching, prayer, 
and fasting, saying that by such means only could 
they gain heaven, and that all the rest was but 
trifling ; that the study of literature was the forging 
of fetters, and that the rude and unlearned fly to 
heaven unhindered; from such a preacher such a 
sermon might have been endured. His simplicity 
might have gained him pardon ; some kind hearers 
might have called it sanctity, and even those who 
liked it least might have excused it as piety and 
devotion. But here they see a man ascend the 
pulpit elegantly dressed with a furred mantle, and 


the insignia of a man of learning, and there, in the 
midst of a university to which no one comes except 
for the sake of learning, openly rail against almost 
every kind of literature. Who can deem this any- 
thing but mere malice and envy ? Hovf came it 
into his head to preach about the Latin tongue, of 
which he knows but little ; or the liberal sciences, 
which he knows still less ; or about Greek, of which 
he does not understand one iota ? Had he not 
matter enough in the seven capital sins — matter, 
too, in which he is better skilled ? . . . 

" Will it be pretended that what he condemns is 
not literature, but the immoderate study of it? 
Surely that sin is not so common, or the rush of 
men so headlong towards study, that they need to 
be held back by a public sermon. . . . But the good 
man had no such moderate designs, for he openly 
called the students of Greek heretics, the professors 
he nicknamed big devils, and the disciples the devil's 
imps. And with this insane fury he pointed at a 
man (Erasmus) by the name of a devil whom all 
knew to be such that the real devil would be most 
loath to see him made a preacher." 

We, in our turn, must be careful not to clap a 
Trojan helmet on all who in the battles of those 
days received the blows of our Hellenists. Erasmus 
somewhere complains that there was nothing in his 
books that his adversaries did not find offensive. 
" They see a scorpion under every stone ; such and 
such a passage is suspect, such and such a line 
scandalous, such and such words wanting in re- 
verence." In the same way, he and More possibly 


saw Trojans everywhere ; and in any case they were 
not careful enough in asking themselves whether 
some of the ridicule they poured out so copiously 
might not splash the devoted soldiers of the good 
cause and even the Church herself. 

That is the great danger of all discussions from 
which wit is not excluded ; and the severest of 
directors would no doubt have hesitated to forbid 
More or Erasmus to use their wit in their writings. 
At first sight it seems as if irony ought to be 
rigorously excluded from all Christian polemics, but 
in practice this redoubtable weapon will remain 
necessary so long as pure reason proves insufficient 
for the guidance of men and the removal of abuses. 
Their pens may have slipped now and then, but the 
two friends believed they might be satiric in all 
security of conscience. " Its satire," says Father 
Bridgett, speaking of the Moria, " is moderate com- 
pared with that of many previous writers whose 
faith and loyalty to the Church have never been 
called in question. Satire on ecclesiastical persons 
— whatever opinion we may form of it — must not be 
confounded with the ridicule cast by heretics on 
divine dogmas or institutions, or practices approved 
by the Church. There never was one day in his life 
when More would have applauded or tolerated an 
attack or a sneer at anything which he knew the 
Church to have countenanced. . . . Some years 
earlier a German named Sebastian Brant had 
written in German verse a book called The Ship of 
Fools. There had been no outcry against it. It had 
been at once translated into Latin, Dutch, French, 


and English. A recent Scotch editor of this book, Mr 
Jamieson, writes : ' Brant can scarcely be classed in 
the great army of Protestant reformers. He was a 
reformer from within, a biting and unsparing ex- 
poser of every priestly abuse, but a loyal son of the 
Church.' . . . This seems to me to explain why 
More saw no harm or danger in the somewhat 
similar book of Erasmus when it first appeared. 
The Ship of Fools had been received with applause 
throughout Europe. It had even been taken as a 
text-book for sermons in Germany. . . . Why should 
a deeper book, written in Latin for more learned 
men, be pernicious or perilous ? That it was judged 
and declared to be so by the Church more than 
fifty years later, proves what it had become, not 
what it was at its first appearance. Circumstances 
had totally changed, and it is often the circum- 
stances in which a book is read that determine its 
weight. . . . And as a book may cease to be dangerous, 
so also it may become dangerous by change of 

" When Erasmus wrote his Praise of Folly, the 
whole of Europe was Catholic ; Luther's name was 
yet unknown except in Wittenberg, where he bore 
the character of a good Catholic. There was no 
prospect of heresy on any large scale, but among all 
good men there were hopes of a Catholic reforma- 
tion. Whether the satire of Erasmus was likely 
to hasten it might well be doubted. More thought it 
would, and welcomed the book." i 

There, indeed, we have the proof both of the 
1 B. i. 84, 85. 


innocence of the pair, and of the presence of a 
certain amount of perspicacity in the various 
accusations brought against Erasmus. Some feared 
that his too vivacious criticism might serve the ends 
of some heretic and pave the v?ay for an act of 
rebellion; others, convinced that the arch-heretic 
was already knocking at the door, maintained that 
the best means of delaying him or preventing his 
doing any harm was simply to set vigorously to 
work at reform. Both sides were right ; and when 
the danger had broken out, Erasmus and More did 
not hesitate to recognise that they would have 
written differently if it had been granted them to 
know the future beforehand. 

" I wrote the Moria," said Erasmus, " in times of 
peace ; I should never have written it if I had 
foreseen this tempest." ^ He makes similar ad- 
missions elsewhere, but nowhere, I believe, more 
frankly than in his exquisite letter to the monk who 
wished to leave his monastery. " I fear that you are 
imposed upon by the trickery of certain people who 
nowadays go boasting mightily of the liberty of the 
gospel. Believe me, if you knew more of things, you 
would be less weary of your present life. I see a 
race of men arising from whom my mind turns with 
loathing. I see no one becoming better, every one 
becoming worse, so that I am deeply grieved that in 
my writings I once preached the liberty of the spirit, 
though I did so in all honesty, suspecting nothing so 
little as the appearance of people of this kind. What 
I desired then was that the abatement of external 
1 B. i. 86. 


ceremonies might much redound to the increase of 
true piety. But as it is, the ceremonies have been so 
destroyed that in place of them we have not the 
liberty of the spirit but the unbridled licence of the 
flesh. . . . What liberty is that which forbids us to 
say our prayers, and forbids us the sacrifice of the 

There was nothing is these retractations to sur- 
prise Thomas More ; on the contrary, he warmly 
declares that neither suspicion nor direct attack can 
disarm him. 

" Your enemies," he writes to Erasmus, " are all 
the less deserving of pardon, because they cannot be 
ignorant that you yourself confess frankly that you 
have handled certain subjects in a manner which, 
. . . had you been able to foresee the speedy appear- 
ance of these foes and traitors to religion, you would 
have endeavoured to soften and dilute. . . . He that 
would blame you for this, will find it no easy task to 
excuse some of the ancient doctors of the Church, . . . 
who, while applying the remedy to present ills, had 
no thought for the ills to come. . . . Go on, then, my 
Erasmus, and prosper in those your virtues ; yet if 
aught should rouse the anxiety of some worthy soul 
beyond what need be, be not ashamed to temper 
your words to his pious fear." ^ 

He himself, of course, showed an equal deter- 
mination to sacrifice all his literary past to the 
pressing needs of the Church. 

' London edition. Lib. xx., Epist. l8. The date of the letter is 
October 1527. 
" Ibid., p. 150S. 


" In these days," he writes again, "in which men, 
by their own default, misconstrue and take harm out 
of the very Scripture of God, until men better amend, 
if any man would now translate Moria into Eng- 
lish, or some works either that I have myself written 
on this, albeit there be none harm therein, folk yet 
being (as they be) given to take harm of that that is 
good, I would not only my darling's books, but 
mine own also, help to burn them both with 
mine own hands, rather than folk should (though 
through their own fault) take any harm of them, 
seeing that I see them likely in these days so to 

Such words appear to me decisive. The man who 
wrote them manifestly was and always had been a 
faithful, loyal, and submissive son of the Church. As 
for his beloved Erasmus, we know now beyond 
question the opinion he had of him and the grounds 
on which he remained staunch in his friendship and 
confidence. In the Erasmus that he knew or thought 
he knew, the Erasmus that he loved, there was 
nothing, so far as questions of faith were concerned, 
of the Luther, the Bayle, the Voltaire, or the Renan. 
I am not concerned here to examine whether that 
was the real Erasmus, for the question has no 
bearing on the perfect orthodoxy of Thomas More. 
I will only remark that Henry VIII.'s Chancellor had 
a knowledge of men ; that he saw Erasmus at close 
quarters, lived with him in complete intimacy, prayed 
with him ; and that after an experience of thirty 
years, his testimony is possibly calculated to lessen 

' English Works, pp. 422, 423. 


the haste and increase the hesitation of those who, 
because they have read the Moria and H few of 
Erasmus's letters and colloquies, think they know 
him thoroughly and take it upon themselves to 
define him. 



It is dear that Sir Thomas had a little Utopia of his own in 
his family (Bridgett, i. p. 138). 

TT is related that Hans Holbein the younger, fleeing 
the barbarity of the Swiss iconoclasts, found 
board, lodging, and a studio for some months in the 
house of Sir Thomas More. There is no docu- 
mentary evidence in support of the picturesque 
legend, but it is certain that, on Erasmus's recom- 
mendation. More welcomed the artist with his usual 
kindness, found him work, and gave him every 
assistance in starting his career in the capital. It is 
easy to imagine that the two became friends, that 
More had a delighted and unwearying admiration for 
Holbein's simple, intellectual, and profound painting, 
and Holbein a vivid interest in More's interesting 
face, which was now full of kindness, now of gravity, 
now of irony. The painter's debt of gratitude and 
affection was paid royally. I have already spoken of 
his wonderful portrait of Thomas More ; and the 
present chapter might be regarded as little more 
than a commentary on another famous picture, in 
which Holbein painted his friend's family. The 
picture, which was sent to Erasmus, has now dis- 
appeared and is possibly lost. There are a few more 


or less imperfect copies remaining, and the first 
sketch, in pen and ink, is in the museum at Basle, 
with many other masterpieces by the same painter. 
More is sitting on a cushioned seat in the middle 
of the room, with his father, the judge, on his right. 
Between the two and a little behind them, is a girl 
of fifteen, John More's betrothed, showing three- 
quarters of her pretty, pleasant, rather cold face. 
The old judge we have seen before; as to Thomas 
More, since all painting is untranslatable, let us 
call Erasmus to our aid. " To begin, then, with 
what is least known to you, in stature he is not tall, 
though not remarkably short. His limbs are formed 
with such perfect symmetry as to leave nothing to 
be desired. His complexion is white, his face fair 
rather than pale, and though by no means ruddy, a 
faint flush of pink appears beneath the whiteness of 
his skin. His hair is dark brown, or brownish black. 
The eyes are greyish blue, with some spots, a kind 
which betokens singular talent, and among the 
English is considered attractive. . . . His counten- 
ance is in harmony with his character, being always 
expressive of an amiable joyousness, and even an 
incipient laughter, and, to speak candidly, it is better 
framed for gladness than for gravity and dignity, 
though without any approach to folly or buffoonery. 
The right shoulder is a little higher than the left, 
especially when he walks. This is not a defect of 
birth, but the result of habit, such as we often con- 
tract. In the rest of his person there is nothing to 
offend. His hands are the least refined part of his 


Subrusticae : Erasmus is the more conscious of 
that detail because his own hands were more delicate. 
Holbein, clearly, was of the same opinion. In the 
sketch, Thomas More's arms are resting on his 
knees, and his hands are buried in wide sleeves. 

" I never saw any one," continues Erasmus, with an 
indiscretion worthy of an interviewer, " so indifferent 
about food. Until he was a young man he delighted 
in drinking water. . . . Yet not to seem singular or 
morose, he would hide his temperance from his 
guests by drinking out of a pewter vessel beer almost 
as light as water, or often pure water. It is the 
custom in England to pledge each other in drinking 
wine. In doing so he will merely touch it with his 
lips. He likes to eat corned beef and coarse bread 
much leavened, rather than what most people count 
delicacies. Otherwise, he has no aversion to what 
gives harmless pleasure to the body. He prefers 
milk diet and fruits, and is especially fond of eggs. 

" His voice is neither loud nor very weak, but 
penetrating; not resounding or soft, but that of a 
clear speaker. Though he delights in every kind of 
music, he has no vocal talents.^ He speaks with 
great clearness and perfect articulation, without 
rapidity or hesitation. He likes a simple dress, 
using neither silk nor purple nor gold chain, except 
when it may not be omitted. It is wonderful how 
negligent he is as regards all the ceremonious forms 
in which most men make politeness to consist. He 

' Father Bridgett corrects Erasmus with the reminder that More 
used to sing with the choir in the church ; unfortunately, that 
proves nothing ! 


does not require them from others, nor is he anxious 
to use them himself, . . . though he is not un- 
acquainted with them when necessary. ... By 
nature More is chary of his liberty and of ease, 
yet, though he enjoys ease, no one is more alert or 
patient when duty requires it." i 

I confess that not all these characteristics can be 
detected in the appearance of the man whom Hol- 
bein has represented among his family, with his gold 
chain round his neck in honour of the occasion. 
But the chance was offered of quoting another and 
a minutely detailed piece of painting; and once begin 
quoting Erasmus, it is difficult to stop. 

Holbein has grouped More's four children round 
their father. Next to him, on his left, stands John, 
the youngest, slightly bent over a book which he is 
holding in both hands. There has been some dis- 
agreement about this fair-haired head. An early 
editor of Roper found it foolish, while Mr Hutton is 
struck by its intelligent distinction. The question is 
difficult to settle, because the eyes are hidden, and 
still more so because we have no biographical infor- 
mation to help us. On the other hand, there is no 
chance of hesitation concerning the two young 
women sitting on very low stools at their father's 
feet. The younger of the two, Cecily, is turning her 
delicate head, no doubt towards the painter, in an 
alert and fixed attitude of interested curiosity. Her 
hands, which had been holding a book and apparently 
a garland of flowers or a string of beads, have parted 
suddenly, and the right is hanging lightly and grace- 
' B. i. 56-58. 


fully in the air. All the intellectual vivacity of her 
father gleams in her little eyes and her smile. 
Margaret, the eldest and the favourite, looks graver. 
Her eyes, too, are very small, but they have the effect 
of increasing the size of the fine brow under the heavy 
geometrical head-dress. Like her father, she has a 
serious air, almost a look of tranquil resignation, 
which is equally far from sadness and joy. Elizabeth, 
the second daughter, is also grave, a sweet-looking 
girl with a delicate profile ; she is standing on her 
grandfather's right, a little way off, with a book under 
her arm and her hands folded. Close to the judge is 
a little cousin, Margaret Gigs, who was taken into the 
house from charity ; she is leaning forward with an 
open book, as if to ask for some explanation, which 
the judge will certainly take care not to give her. 
She was a lovable woman, not so pretty as she was 
clever, who later married the family tutor, John 
Clements, and used to amuse herself as a child by 
offending Thomas More, for the pleasure of being 
scolded by him. 

There is one figure lacking in Holbein's sketch, 
and that is just the figure we should most have 
liked to see there. Jane Colt, More's first wife, 
died soon after the birth of John More, whom we 
see here as a man, and another had come to take 
care of the four orphans. More himself, in his 
epitaph, calls her uxorcula Mori, and some pathetic 
lines of Erasmus give the same impression of her, a 
frail, delicate, and gracious woman, ever ready to 
yield to the amiable caprices of her husband. The 
daughter of a country gentleman, she lived far from 


London, with her two sisters, in tranquil ignorance. 
Flattered by the hope of having the young barrister 
for son-in-law, Mr Colt used often to invite him to his 
house. " More's mind," writes Roper, " most served 
him to the second daughter, for that he thought 
her the fairest and best favoured, yet when he con- 
sidered that it would be both great grief and some 
shame also to the eldest to see her younger sister 
preferred before her in marriage, he then, of a 
certain pity, framed his fancy toward her, and soon 
after married her." 

Five happy years followed. When the children 
were asleep, the uxorcula Mori, little more than a 
child herself, went back to her lessons, since her 
husband wished her to be a scholar ; or else she 
sang and played the clavichord, for she had soon 
become a good musician, her husband loving nothing 
so well. That is all we know of her; but, little 
though it is, it is enough to win our love. 

And now, in a corner of the picture, we find the 
solid, reposeful figure of Alice Middleton, More's 
second wife. Before we lend an ear to the unkind 
conjectures of the biographers who have been too 
eager to celebrate the conjugal martyrdom of their 
hero, let us see what Holbein thinks of her. He has 
drawn her, certainly without enthusiasm, but with the 
sympathy which is one of the conditions of truth in art. 

The virtuous lady is on her knees before a prie- 
dieu, but the artist intended to alter his first idea. 
On the margin Holbein has written : " She must be 
sitting," and that, indeed, is the proper position for 
her. She was older than More, and, without being 


exactly pretty, had nothing unpleasant in her ap- 
pearance. Her face lacks neither intelligence nor 
wit, but its dominating note is tranquillity, the tran- 
quillity that comes of somewhat commonplace good 
sense, of kindness and patient goodness. Erasmus, 
meaning to praise his friend, has left a fine eulogy 
of his friend's wife. " A few months after his wife's 
death, he married a widow, who might take care of 
his children (the eldest, Margaret, was barely five) ; 
she was neither young nor fair, as he would say 
laughingly, but an active and vigilant housewife, with 
whom he lived as pleasantly and sweetly as if she 
had all the charms of youth. You will scarcely find 
a husband who, by authority or severity, has gained 
such ready compliance as More by playful flattery. 
What, indeed, would he not obtain, when he has 
prevailed on a woman already getting old, by no 
means of a pliable disposition, and intent on domestic 
affairs, to learn to play the harp, the lute, the mono- 
chord, and the flute, and, by the appointment of her 
husband, to devote to this task a fixed time every 
day ? " 1 After such evidence as that, it would need 
the most convincing proofs to persuade us that Alice 
Middleton was a constant trial to her husband's 
patience. I am well aware that in another passage 
Erasmus says he is thinking of leaving London for 
fear of becoming an expense to the good lady ; but 
Erasmus, who was naturally restless, would never 
have stayed with his friend so long if the hospitality 
had been anything but cordial. It is quite possible 
that, after giving him a proper welcome, Lady More, 
IB. i. 113. 


in a moment of temper, may have shown some im- 
patience with this guest, who knew not a word of 
English, and was bent on talking Latin. As Father 
Bridgett very truly says : " It would surely be a trial 
to the meekest or most genial of wives to hear all 
the conversation and the laughter - moving jokes 
carried on daily, for weeks together, in a language 
of which she could not understand a word." ^ All 
contemporary evidence, moreover, shows that the 
house was always open to a large number of friends ; 
and though Lady More probably attached no im- 
portance to all the philosophical dialogues that went 
on, we may believe that she had a kind welcome for 
these fine talkers, as a good mother welcomes her 
children's playmates. 

Father Bridgett, who is warm in her defence, 
admits that " perhaps she was somewhat worldly," 
saving a candle's end, as More used to say, and 
spoiling a velvet gown ; but we know also that More, 
who was very negligent in matters of this world, had 
chosen her for her economical qualities, and surely 
to none but a Christian and a generous-hearted 
woman could her husband have written in such 
terms as these : — 

" Mistress Alice, in my most hearty wise I recom- 
mend me to you. And whereas I am informed by 
my son Heron (the husband of Cecily) of the loss of 
our barns and our neighbours' also, with all the corn 
that was therein, albeit (saving God's pleasure) it is 
great pity of so much good corn lost, yet since it 
hath liked Him to send us such a chance, we must, 
'B. i. 117. 


and are bounden, not only to be content, but also to 
be glad of His visitation. He sent us all that we 
have lost, and since He hath by such a chance 
taken it away again, His pleasure be fulfilled. Let 
us never grudge thereat, but take it in good worth, 
and heartily thank Him, as well for adversity as for 
prosperity. . . . For His wisdom better seeth what 
is good for us than we do ourselves. Therefore I 
pray you be of good cheer, and take all the house- 
hold with you to church, and there thank God, both 
for that He has given us and for that He hath taken 
from us, and for that He hath left it. ... I pray 
you to make some good ensearch what my poor 
neighbours have lost, and bid them take no thought 
therefor ; for and I should not leave myself a spoon, 
there shall no poor neighbour of mine bear no loss 
by any chance happened in my house." i 

" Again," continues Father Bridgett, " if the widow 
of iVIr Middleton had occasionally a sharp tongue, 
she was no termagant." In a letter to Erasmus of 
December 15, 1517, More writes : " My wife desires 
a million of compliments, especially for your careful 
wish that she may live many years. She says she 
is the more anxious for this as she will live the 
longer to plague me." This kind of playful banter 
does not belong to a Xantippe. Harpsfleld writes 
as follows : " This wife on a time after shrift bade 
Sir Thomas More be merry, ' for I have,' saith she, 
' this day left all my shrewdness, and to-morrow I 
will begin afresh ' with merry-conceited talk, though 
now and then it proved very true. Indeed, Sir 
' English Works, p. 1419. 


Thomas More could well digest and like it in her 
and others ; neither was he in her debt for repaying 
home again oftentimes such kind of talk. Among 
other things, when he divers times beheld his wife 
what pains she took in straight binding up her hair 
to make her a fair large forehead, and with strait 
bracing in her body to make her middle small, both 
twain to her great pain, for the pride of a little 
foolish praise, he said to her : ' Forsooth, madam, 
if God give you not hell He shall do you great wrong, 
for it must needs be your own of very right, for you 
buy it very dear, and take very great pains therefor.' 
This wife, when she saw that Sir Thomas had no 
great list greatly to get upward in the world" (Father 
Bridgett is still quoting the totally unsympathetic 
Harpsfleld), " neither would labour for office of autho- 
rity, and, besides, that he forsook a right worshipful 
room when it was ofFered him, she fell in hand with 
him and asked : ' What will you do that ye list not 
to put forth yourself as other folks do ? Will you 
sit still by the fire, and make goslings in the ashes 
with a stick, as children do ? Would God I were a 
man, and look what I would do.' ' Why, wife,' quoth 
her husband, ' what would you do ? ' ' What ? by 
God, go forward with the best. For, as my mother 
was wont to say (God have mercy on her soul !), it is 
ever better to rule than to be ruled. And, therefore, 
by God, I would not, I warrant you, be so foolish to 
be ruled when I might rule.' ' By my troth, wife,' 
quoth her husband, ' in this I daresay you say truth, 
for I never found you willing to be ruled as yet.' " ^ 
' B. i. 1 17-120. 


Alice might have replied by reminding him of all 
the music-lessons she had taken with such good 
grace ; but there is no replying to a bon mot, and 
anyone who would take this innocent jest seriously 
is past convincing. 

" We have now seen," concludes Father Bridgett, 
•' all the evil that can be alleged against this lady, and 
it certainly does not justify our classing Blessed 
More amongst the ill-matched great men. To say 
that when his- time of suffering came she did not rise 
to the height of his soul is merely to class her with 
nearly all her contemporaries, including almost every 
abbess, abbot, and bishop in the country." i 

The family of More is not complete in Holbein's 
picture, and I cannot understand why William Roper, 
the husband of Margaret, is absent. For a time the 
good fellow was the cause of some anxiety to his 
father-in-law. Luther's writings had turned his 
head. He would not hear of prayers and sacra- 
ments, and set laboriously to work to make the 
famous act of faith which was to render everything 
else unnecessary. Only consideration for More pre- 
vented Roper, who was burning to spread the new- 
gospel, from falling out with the secular arm. More's 
sadness and anxiety can easily be imagined. Fortu- 
nately the alarm was soon over, and the little bout 
of heretical fever passed as quickly as it had come. 

We must not forget Henry Patenson, More's fool, 
whom Holbein has been careful to show, a little 
in the rear of the family group. In the Isle of 
Utopia, " they have singular delight and pleasure in 

1 B. i. 120, 121. 


fools. And as it is a great reproach to do any of 
them hurt or injury, so they prohibit not to take 
pleasure of foolishness. For that, they think, doth 
much good to the fools. But if any man be so sad 
and stern that he cannot laugh, neither at their 
words nor at their deeds, none of them be committed 
to his tuition." i Patenson had nothing of that kind 
to fear under the roof of Thomas More, for in all a 
fool's memory never had so good a master been seen 
nor one more swift to recognise that there is no 
wisdom so foolish as that which remains deaf to the 
counsels of folly. 

Right at the bottom of the picture is a small 
monkey, barely sketched in, beginning to climb up 
Lady More's dress. He is far from being out of 
place, for he is a reminder of one of his master's 
most characteristic habits : " One of his great 
delights," says Erasmus, " is to consider the forms, 
the habits, and the instincts of different kinds of 
animals. There is hardly a species of bird that 
he does not keep in his house, and rare animals, such 
as monkeys, foxes, ferrets, weasels, and the like. If 
he meets with anything foreign or in any way re- 
markable, he eagerly buys it, so that his house is full 
of such things, and at every turn they attract 
the eye of visitors, and his own pleasure is renewed 
whenever he sees others pleased." ^ It seems certain 
that in the final picture Holbein had put two dogs 
lying at the feet of the two most important people 
in the group, a large watch-dog for Sir John More, 

' Utopia, Book ii. (Robinson's translation). 
= B. i. 59, 60. 


and a " Boulogne spaniel " for Thomas More. Their 
absence from the sketch is to be regretted. For the 
rest, it matters little that the artist, to save time, 
omitted to draw the musical instruments which he 
intended to hang in the corner on the left near the 
elegant side-board with the flowered pottery. " Here 
put a clavichord and other instruments on a shelf." 
The marginal note is sufficient, and like the rest 
of the wonderful drawing leaves an impression of 
suavity, of measure, and of harmony. 


Of the ten people in this picture, six at least are 
reading or just going to read. There are four books 
open, two about to be opened, and others scattered 
on the floor, to be taken up, no doubt, by Thomas 
More, as soon as the sitting is over. The detail 
is significant, a reminder that the Chancellor's four 
children did not regard their studies as finished. 
The elder ones were married, and Margaret already 
a mother; but the professors of Greek, Latin, 
astronomy, and other sciences continued their 
lessons, under the masterly direction of the friend 
of Erasmus. Never were humane letters cultivated 
with more eagerness, or honoured with more re- 
spect and gratitude.. " You complain occasionally 
in your letters to me," writes Erasmus to Budaeus, 
"that philology has got a bad name through you, 
since it has both injured your health and made you 
poorer. But More manages to be well spoken of 


by all and in all respects; and he avers that he 
is indebted to literature both for better health, for 
the favour and affection he meets with from his ex- 
cellent prince, as vi'ell as from his own countrymen 
and foreigners, for an increase of wealth, for be- 
coming more agreeable both to himself and his 
friends, more useful to his country and his relatives, 
. . . and lastly, more dear to heaven. Formerly 
learning had a bad name, since it seemed to deprive 
its votaries of common-sense. Well, no journey, no 
business, however prolonged or arduous, makes More 
lay aside his books ; yet you will find no one who is 
so companionable a man at all times and to every 
class, so ready to render service, so affable, so lively 
in conversation, or who knows so well how to unite 
solid prudence with sweetness of manners." ^ 

In the same letter Erasmus gives some pleasant 
particulars of the literary education of the children. 
" A year ago it occurred to More to send me a speci- 
men of their progress in study. He bade them all 
write to me, each one without any help, neither the 
subject being suggested nor the language corrected ; 
for when they offered their papers to their father 
for correction, he affected to be displeased with the 
bad writing, and made them copy out their letters 
more neatly and accurately. When they had done 
so, he closed the letters and sent them to me 
without changing a syllable. Believe me, dear 
Budaeus, I never was more surprised ; there was 
nothing whatever either silly or girlish in what was 
said, and the style was such that you would feel they 
^B. i. 115, 116. 


were making daily progress. ... In that house you 
will find no one idle, no one busied in feminine 
trifles. Titus Livius is ever in their hands. They 
have advanced so far that they can read such 
authors and understand them without a transla- 
tion, unless there occurs some such word as would 
perhaps perplex myself. His wife, who excels in good 
sense and experience rather than in learning, governs 
the little company with wonderful tact, assigning to 
each a task, and requiring its performance, allow- 
ing no one to be idle or to be occupied in trifles." i 
Latin or no Latin — the least suspicion of pedantry 
would here be utterly ridiculous. Moreover, More 
has left us his system of education in a letter written 
from Court to one of the tutors of his family. The 
letter is in Latin, and the principal passages of it 
were no doubt given the children to learn by heart. 
It is too precious not to be quoted here. 

" I have received, my dear Gunnell, your letter, 
elegant as your letters always are, and full of 
affection. From your letter I perceive your devo- 
tion to my children ; I argue their diligence from 
their own. Every one of these letters pleased me, 
but I was particularly pleased because I notice that 
Elizabeth shows a gentleness and self-command in 
the absence of her mother which some children 
would not show in her presence. Let her under- 
stand that such conduct delights me more than 
all possible letters I could receive from any one. 
Though I prefer learning joined with virtue to all 
the treasures of kings, yet renown for learning, 
IB. i. 115. 


when it is not united with a good life, is nothing else 
than splendid and notorious infamy. ... On the 
other hand, if a woman (and this I desire and hope 
with you as their teacher for all my daughters) to 
eminent virtue should add an outwork of even 
moderate skill in literature, I think she will have 
more real profit than if she had obtained the riches 
of Croesus and the beauty of Helen. I do not say 
this because of the glory which will be hers, . . . 
but because the reward of wisdom is too solid to be 
lost like riches or to decay like beauty. . . . Among 
all the benefits that learning bestows on men, there 
is none more excellent than this, that by the study 
of books we are taught in that very study not to 
seek praise, but utility. Such has been the teaching 
of the most learned men, especially of philosophers, 
who are the guides of human life. ... I have dwelt 
so much on this matter, my dear Gunnell, because 
of what you say in your letter, that Margaret's lofty 
character should not be abased. In this judgment 
I quite agree with you ; but to me, and, no doubt, to 
you also, that man would seem to abase a generous 
character who should accustom it to admire what is 
vain and low. . . . Therefore, my dear Gunnell, since 
we must walk by this road, I have often begged not 
you only, who, out of your affection for my children, 
would do it of your own accord, . . . but all my 
friends to warn my children to avoid the precipice 
of pride and haughtiness, and to walk in the pleasant 
meadows of modesty ; not to be dazzled at the sight 
of gold; not to lament that they do not possess 
what they erroneously admire in others; not to 


think more of themselves for gaudy trappings, nor 
less for the want of them; neither to deform the 
beauty that nature has given them by neglect, nor 
to try to heighten it by artifice ; to put virtue in the 
first place, learning in the second; and in their 
studies to esteem most whatever may teach them 
piety towards God, charity to all, and modesty and 
Christian humility in themselves. By such means 
they will receive from God the reward of an inno- 
cent life, and in the assured expectation of it, will 
view death without horror, and meanwhile possess- 
ing solid joy, will neither be puffed up by the empty 
praise of men, nor dejected by evil tongues. These 
I consider the genuine fruits of learning, and, though 
I admit that all literary men do not possess them, I 
would maintain that those who give themselves to 
study with such views will easily attain their end 
and become perfect. . . . 

" If it be true that the evil of a woman's brain be 
bad, and apter to bear bracken than corn, by which 
saying many keep women from study, I think, on 
the contrary, that a woman's wit is on that account 
all the more diligently to be cultivated, that nature's 
defect may be redressed by industry. This was the 
opinion of the ancients, of those who were most 
prudent as well as most holy. Not to speak of the 
restr St Jerome and St Augustine not only exhorted 
excellent matrons and most noble virgins to study, 
but also, in order to assist them, diligently explained 
the abstruse meanings of Holy Scripture, and wrote 
for tender girls letters replete with so sound erudition, 
that nowadays old men, who call themselves pro- 


fessors of sacred science, can scarcely read them 
correctly, much less understand them. Do you, my 
learned Gunnell, have the kindness to see that my 
daughters thoroughly learn these works of those 
holy men ; and from hence they will learn what end 
they ought to propose from their learning, and how 
wholly they ought to look for its fruits in a good 
conscience, and the approval of heaven. Thus, 
internally happy and tranquil, they will neither be 
moved by the praise of flatterers, nor chagrined by 
the ignorant scoffers at learning. 

" I fancy I hear you object that these precepts, 
though true, are beyond the capacity of my young 
children. . . . But, dear Gunnell, the more I see the 
difficulty of getting rid of this pest of pride, the more 
do I see the necessity of setting to work at it from 
childhood. For I find no other reason why this evil 
clings so to our hearts, than because almost as soon 
as we are born it is sown in the tender minds of 
children by their nurses, it is cultivated by their 
teachers, and brought to its full growth by their 
parents. . . . Thus we grow accustomed to make so 
much of praise, that while we study how to please 
the greater number (who will always be the worst), 
we grow ashamed of being good (with the few). 
That this plague of vain-glory may be banished far 
from my children I do desire that you, my dear 
Gunnell, and their mother and all their friends, 
would sing this song to them, and repeat it, and 
beat it into their heads, that vain - glory is a 
thing despicable and to be spit upon ; and that 
there is nothing more sublime than that humble 


modesty so often praised by Christ. ... To tliis 
purpose nothing will more conduce than to read 
them the lessons of the ancient Fathers, who, as 
they know, cannot be angry with them. ... If you 
will teach something of this sort, in addition to 
their lesson in Sallust — to Margaret and Elizabeth, 
as being more advanced than John and Cecily — you 
will bind me and them still more to you. And thus 
you will bring about that my children, who are dear 
to me by nature, and still more dear by learning and 
virtue, will become most dear by that advance in 
knowledge and good conduct. Adieu. From the 
Court on the vigil of Pentecost." ^ 

In matters of education, as of public business, 
More knew the value of a well-placed compliment. 
His letters to his children are full of encouragement 
and praise. There is no call, I think, here, to defend 
him against the partisans of an inhuman pedagogy, 
and I will only mention that his gently satiric spirit 
cut short, when need arose, all temptations to childish 

" I think," he wrote to them on one occasion, 
" that you have no longer any need of Mr Nicholas, 
since you have learnt whatever he had to teach you 
about astronomy. I hear you are so far advanced in 
that science that you can not only point out the 
polar-star or the dog-star, or any of the constellations, 
but are able also — which requires a skilful and pro- 
found astrologer — among all these leading heavenly 
bodies, to distinguish the sun from the moon ! Go 
forward, then, in that new and admirable science 
' B. i. 127-31. 


by which you ascend to the stars. But while you 
gaze on them assiduously, consider that this holy 
time of Lent warns you, and that beautiful and 
holy poem of Boetius keeps singing in your ears, to 
raise your mind also to heaven." ^ 

The girls of those days were no more remarkable 
than those of our own for a keen delight in family 
correspondence; in the case of More's daughters it 
was all the more excusable because they were obliged 
to write in Latin. They used to plead want of time, 
or the huriied departure of the courier, or the lack 
of interesting news. 

" How can a subject be wanting when you write 
to me," asks their father, " since I am glad to hear 
of your studies or of your games ? and you will please 
me most if, when there is nothing to write about, 
you write me that nothing at great length. Nothing 
can be easier for you, since you are girls, loquacious 
by nature, who have always a world to say about 
nothing at all. One thing, however, I admonish you, 
whether you write serious matters or the merest 
trifles : it is my wish that you write everything dili- 
gently and thoughtfully. It will be no harm if you 
first write the whole in English, for then you will 
have much less trouble in turning it into Latin ; not 
having to look for the matter, your mind will be 
intent only on the language. That, however, I leave 
to your own choice, whereas I strictly enjoin that 
whatever you have composed you carefully examine 
before writing it out clean ; and in this examination, 
first scrutinise the whole sentence and then every 
» B. i. 132, 133. 


part of it. Thus, if any solecisms have escaped you, 
you will easily detect them. Correct these, write 
the whole letter again, and even then examine it 
once more, for sometimes, in rewriting, faults slip 
in again that one had expunged. By this diligence, 
your little trifles will become serious matters; for 
while there is nothing so neat and witty that will 
not be made insipid by silly and inconsiderate lo- 
quacity, so also there is nothing in itself so insipid 
that you cannot season with grace and wit if you 
give a little thought to it. Farewell, my dear children. 
From the Court, the 3rd September." ^ 

I am obliged to pass over other equally interesting 
letters, and prefer in their place a little note of a 
more intimate and less academic kind, which 
seems to me to be perhaps the most illuminating 
and most charming thing in all the abundant 
collection of More's writings. The reader may re- 
member that during his career at Oxford, young 
More had not a groat in his purse, and could not 
even have his shoes mended without writing to his 
father. These details we have from himself, and in 
giving them he praises his father's prudence highly. 
And now we find IMargaret writing to him one day 
to ask for a little money. The reply was not long 
in coming. 

" You ask, my dear Margaret, for money with too 
much bashfulness and timidity, since you are asking 
from a father who is eager to give, and since you 
have written to me a letter such that I would not 
only repay each line of it with a golden philippine, 
' B, i. 134. 


as Alexander did the verses of Cherilos, but, if my 
means were as great as my desire, I would reward 
each syllable with two gold ounces. As it is, I 
send only what you have asked, but would have 
added more, only that as I am eager to give, so am 
I desirous to be asked and coaxed by my daughter, 
especially by you, whom virtue and learning have 
made so dear to my sol;1. So the sooner you spend 
this money well, as you are wont to do, and the 
sooner you ask for more, the more you will be sure 
of pleasing your father." ^ 

Father Bridgett makes the happy observation that 
"vyhatever little romance is wanting in the court- 
ships of this singular man is made up for by the 
intensity of affection poured out from the father's 
heart on this gracious child." ^ But beyond and 
above the romance, it reveals one of the essential 
features of his singular character. In dealing with 
matters of all kinds, education, controversy, or 
Christian philosophy. More was just the same, the 
man who could find unqualified praise for the 
severity of his father, and at the very same moment 
open his purse-strings and his heart to the slightest 
wishes of his children. He remained the same 
throughout, faithful to the past but paving the way 
for the future, ready to accept whatever was neces- 
sary and excellent in tradition, but otherwise deter- 
mined to follow, without advertisement or noise, the 
best inspirations of the " new times." In a letter 
in elegiacs which he improvised during a ride in the 
rain, he reminds his children how he always brought 
1 B. i. I3S. » B. i. 138. 


them presents from every journey, cakes, fruit, or 
fine stuffs, and how for every stroke of the birch he 
had given them a hundred kisses, the birch itself 
being nothing more terrible than a bundle of 
peacocks' feathers. 


If I had time to embark on paradoxes, I might 
showf, without undue trouble, that the love of home 
is rather French than English, and that England is, 
in a word, the classic land of friendship. And from 
this point of view, it would be pleasant to point to 
More as an example and a precursor. " Ad amicitiam 
natus factusque videtur," says Erasmus, who was an 
authority on the subject. But the foregoing chapter 
will enable us, I hope, to dispense with any further 
discourse on friendship and the friendship of Thomas 
More. We know, too, and should in any case have 
guessed, that his kind heart went out to all kinds of 

" More was used," says Stapleton, " whenever in 
his house or in the village he lived in there was a 
woman in labour, to begin praying, and so continue 
until news was brought him that the delivery had 
come happily to pass. 

" The charity of More was without bounds, as is 
proved by the frequent and abundant alms he poured 
without distinction among all unfortunate persons. 
He used himself to go through the back lanes and 
inquire into the state of poor families; and he would 


relieve their distress, not by scattering a few small 
coins, as is the general custom, but when he ascer- 
tained a real need, by two, three, or four gold pieces. 

" When his official position and duties prevented 
this personal attention, he would send some of his 
family to dispense his alms, especially to the sick 
and the aged. The office often fell to Margaret 
Gigs, the wife of John Clements. . . . 

" He very often invited to his table his poorer 
neighbours, receiving them . . . familiarly and joy- 
ously ; he rarely invited the rich, and scarcely ever 
the nobility. Not a week passed without his taking 
some poor sufferer into his house and having him 
tended. In his parish of Chelsea he hired a house, 
in which he gathered many infirm, poor, and old 
people, and maintained them at his own expense. 
When More was away his eldest daughter, Margaret, 
. . . had the care of this house. 

" He even received into his household and sup- 
ported a poor widow named Paula, who had spent 
all her money on a lawsuit. . . . 

" But lest he should feel any hatred for any 
of his neighbours, and in order to love each and 
all with pure charity, according to that most sure 
mark of a Christian, of which Christ said: " By 
this shall all men know that you are my disciples, 
if you have love one for another " (John xiii.), 
he drew up for himself a certain rule of life . . . 
which, for the benefit of mankind, I will here tran- 
scribe from his English works. He, indeed, wrote 
it with a coal in his prison ; but I would have it 
written in letters of gold : ' Bear no malice nor 


evil will to no man living. For either the man is 
good or naughty. If he be good and I hate him, 
then am I naughty. If he be naughty, either he 
shall amend and die good, and go to God, or abide 
naughty and die naughty and go to the Devil. And 
then let me remember that if he shall be saved, he 
shall not fail (if I be saved too, as I trust to be) to 
love me very heartily, and I shall then in likewise love 
him. And why should I now then hate one for this 
while, which shall hereafter love me for evermore: 
and why should I now be an enemy to him with 
whom I shall in time coming be coupled in eternal 
friendship ? And, on the other side, if he shall 
continue naughty and be damned, there is then so 
outrageous eternal sorrow towards him that I may 
well think myself a deadly cruel wretch if I would 
not now rather pity his pain than malign his person. 
If one would say that we may well with good con- 
science wish an evil man harm, lest he should do 
harm to such other folk as are innocent and good, 
I will not now dispute upon that point. . . . But 
verily thus will I say, that I will give counsel to 
every good friend of mine, but if he be put in such a 
room as to punish an evil man [that] lieth in his 
charge by reason of his office, else leave the desire 
of punishing unto God. . . . But let us, that are no 
better than men of a mean sort, ever pray for such 
merciful amendment in other folk as our own con- 
science showeth us that we have need in our self.' ^ 
Such was the charity of More towards God and his 
neighbour. "2 

1 English Works, p. 1405. '^ Stapleton, cap. vi, 


But it is time to complete this chapter by speaking 
of his religion, the loving and serious religion which 
with him was the rule and standard of all things, the 
dominating factor of his life. 

" The higher he rose in honours," says Nisard, 
" the closer did his mind return to the austere reli- 
gion of his youth." 1 There is nothing to give this 
imaginative statement the slightest appearance of 
foundation, but the mistake is quite possible at first 
sight, because his religious life was essentially per- 
sonal, meditative, and silent. Next to his library he 
had a chapel, and we get an adequate idea of his 
piety from the statement that he devoted more time 
to God than even to his books. But for all the 
inwardness of his Christianity he was as attached in 
heart and mind to the slightest practices of the 
Church as the simplest of the faithful. After re- 
minding us that More heard Mass every day, Staple- 
ton goes on : " He recited daily the morning and 
evening prayers, joining thereto the seven penitential 
psalms and Litanies. He frequently added the 
graduals and the psalm Beati immaculati. He had 
also certain private prayers, which are contained in 
his collected English works, some in Latin, some in 
English. Copying St Jerome and others, he made 
himself a little psalter or compendium of psalms by 
selection from the rest, . . . and this he used often. 
From this fervent care for prayer he had not only 
built himself a retired little building in a remote 
part of his house, where he might be undisturbed in 
study, prayer, and meditation, . . . but also in his 
' p. 203. 


parish church at Chelsea he built a little chapel, and 
furnished it copiously with all things necessary for 
the worship of God, and others appertaining to the 
adornment and decoration of God's house. . . . He 
presented many gold and silver vessels to his church, 
. . . but in that same church, clothed in a surplice, 
he took his part in the singing of the services. He 
did this even when Chancellor of the kingdom ; and 
on being warned by the Duke of Norfolk, who had 
found him thus wearing a surplice and singing in the 
choir, that the King would certainly be displeased at 
a proceeding so humble and so little suited to one of 
his station, he replied : ' My master the King cannot 
be displeased at the service I pay to his Master 
God.' Sometimes he served the priest's Mass ; and 
sometimes in the public supplications he carried the 
cross before the priest, not refusing or blushing to 
perform the office of a verger. This he did often, 
until he became Chancellor of the realm. But even 
then he followed in the many processions in Rogation 
week, in which the way was often long; and on 
being asked by his friends to ride on account of his 
dignity, he refused, saying : ' My Lord went on foot, 
I will not follow Him on horseback,' by which he 
alluded to the image of the crucifix, in which he 
venerated the Lord. Whenever he was appointed 
to some new office or was about to undertake some 
arduous piece of work, he would always draw 
strength from the Holy Communion. Sometimes 
he would go on pilgrimage to holy places some 
seven miles from his home, and that always on 
foot, which is a thing that in England the common 


people scarcely do."i To Stapleton also we owe 
some interesting particulars of the religious practices 
which More had introduced as rules into his house- 
hold. " None, not even nobles, were allowed to play 
cards or dice. He had such care of chastity that 
the men and maids slept in different buildings, . . . 
and the women were forbidden to go into that part 
of the house where the men worked except in case 
of necessity. . . . When he was at Chelsea, he used 
to summon the greater part of the household into 
the hall before they went to bed, and there pray 
with them in common, and recite three psalms (all 
kneeling), such as Miserere mei Deus, Ad te Domine 
levavi, or Deus misereatur nostri. To these he added 
the Salve Regina with the collect, and ended with 
the De profundis for the dead. This he continued 
to do when he was Chancellor. He never allowed 
any to be absent from Mass on holy days ; and even 
made them rise in the night on the great festivals, 
such as Christmas and Easter, and be present at the 
whole office. When any of his household committed 
a fault, he reproached them, but with such gentle- 
ness that they loved him the more for it. Margaret 
Gigs used to relate . . . that sometimes she used to 
offend More on purpose in order to enjoy his most 
loving and suave correction. ... At table, some of 
the Scriptures used to be read, with the commentary 
of Nicolas of Lyra or some other ancient writer. One 
of the little girls used to read . . . and the reading 
was always closed, as it is in monastic houses, 
with the words Tu autem Domine miserere nostril 
^ Stapleton, cap. vi. ; cf. Rope(, 


... If any man of learning were present (as often 
happened) they took counsel in common concerning 
the reading they had heard; and when that was 
done, More was the first to start some jest (in which 
he had the happiest humour), and set every one 
laughing heartily. For at that time Henry Paten- 
son, More's fool, took his part. . . . Every year, on 
Good Friday, he called the whole of his family into 
the ' New Building,' and there had the Passion read 
to them, generally by his secretary, John Harris." i 

There has recently been discovered a confidential 
letter from one of More's confessors ; and this simple 
evidence, written in poor English, confirms the 
recollections preserved in Stapleton's somewhat 
eloquent prose. " Item, as for Sir Thomas More, 
he was my parishioner at London. I christened him 
two goodly children, I buried his first wife. . . . 
This Mr More was my ghostly child; in his con- 
fession to be so pure, so clean, with great study, 
deliberation, and devotion, I never heard many such. 
. . . He was devout in his divine service, and what 
more — keep you this privily to yourself — he wore a 
great hair (sic) next his skin, in so much that my 
mistress marvelled when his shirts was washed. 
Item, this mistress his wife desired me to counsel 
[him] to put [off] that hard and rough shirt of hair." ^ 

Roper tells us that one evening at table, the 
Chancellor having taken off his gown, Anne Cresacre, 
John More's young wife, caught sight of the top of his 

^ Stapleton, cap. ix. 

* English Historical Review^ vii. pp. 712-15 (the spelling 


hair shirt and began to laugh at it. Margaret, 
perceiving this, told him of it in private; he was 
sorry, for he wished his eldest daughter to be the 
only one aware of his mortifications. Margaret, in 
fact, was charged to take care of her father's instru- 
ments of penance, and we shall see that the hair- 
shirt, thenceforth useless, was secretly sent her by 
More on the eve of his martyrdom. 



If I should propose to any king wholesome decrees, doing my 
endeavour to pluck out of his mind tlie pernicious original causes 
of vice and naughtiness, think you not that I should forthwith 
either be driven away, or else made a laughing-stock? {Utopia, 
Book i.). 

A FEW pages will suffice for this chapter ; and 
•'^ yet it might have been important in the history 
of modern times, as a little reflection will show. 
On the threshold of the sixteenth century, King 
Utopus left his fine town of Amaurote, and consented 
to mould with his own hands, in the quality of chief 
minister, the ideas, the manners, and the general 
policy of England. He fashioned the new world 
with intelligence and respect for religious liberty, 
nipped the greed of imperialism in the bud, bridled 
the tyranny of legal injustice, and finally, and above 
all, having foreseen, long before the terrible evidence 
of the hours of crisis, the gravity of the social pro- 
blem, he accustomed the public mind to look for and 
prepare a solution by other. means than the unfailing 
impotence of the laws.i It is all a dream of dreams, 
and yet the England of the Tudors was not far from 
witnessing a like marvel. Put a Louis XIII. in place 
of Henry VIII., or, simpler still, suppress Wolsey 
and let More succeed Warham,, and some part at 
* The above is a bird's-eye view of the scheme of Utopia. 



least of the programme might perhaps actually have 
begun to be realised. 

There is no excuse for saying " Too good to be 
true I " or " All very well on an undiscoverable 
island I " One must have read Utopia very unin- 
telligently to call More's mind chimerical. On 
the contrary, no one knevsr more clearly than he 
where possible reforms ended and Utopian ideas 
began. By a rare combination, the philosopher was 
also a man of affairs, a politician, and the politician a 
philosopher. Stranger still, though he was both a 
philosopher and an honourable man, he attained to 
the highest office in his country and held it for 
fifteen years. But here we find fortune strangely 
inadvertent. His office gave More but the shadow 
of power. The friend and confidant of an absolute 
king — and such a king as Henry — he was soon to 
limit his whole ambition to the policy of the least 
evil, and expend the best of his genius on the task 
of delaying the hour at which the passionate monarch 
would cease to listen to any but those who agreed 
with him. 

And so More's life never becomes absorbed in 
general history, like the lives of lesser men, who, 
being free to act as they choose, have left their im- 
press on the internal and external policy of a nation. 
The author of Utopia took the initiative in no reform, 
no law bears his name ; and but for the humanist 
and the martyr, the history of his time might be 
written without mention of him. The result is that 
he becomes, in a more intimate way, the property of 
his biographers, who are at liberty almost entirely to 


neglect the minister in him and see nothing but the 
man. Forgetting the distractions of the Court and 
the trappings of the Chancellor's robe, they need 
only try to penetrate deeper into the secret of that 
sweet and grave expression, now perhaps a little 
graver than before, 


When the royal favour came to seek him out, 
More was one of the most prominent of his country- 
men. He was under-sheriff in 1510, and having 
quickly won popularity with the common people by 
his expeditious and conciliatory way of administering 
justice, he became thenceforward, it appears, the 
leading barrister in London. According to Roper, 
his annual income exceeded £400 a year. Henry 
VIII. knew the value of the man who was praised 
to the skies by the hellenists, and no less esteemed 
in the world of business and the courts of justice. 
He wished to entice him to Court and attach him to 
his person. More quite understood that he would 
not be able to escape for ever, but he was in no 
hurry to abdicate his independence. More than 
once he declined to reply to the advances made him 
by Wolsey on behalf of the King, and he would have 
resisted longer still but for a concourse of circum- 
stances which forced him into the mill against his 
own desire. In 1515, the city asked the king's 
permission to make the young magistrate a member 
of an embassy they were sending to Flanders to 
settle certain commercial differences. The embassy 


lasted six months. More took advantage of his 
enforced holiday to form a friendship with a number 
of continental scholars and to begin Utopia. In 
1517, during the riots of May, he harangued the 
rebels in the street at the invitation of the Privy 
Council. Soon afterwards he was sent on a new 
mission. From Calais, which he found very dull, 
he wrote to Erasmus : — 

" I quite approve of your resolution not to meddle 
with the laborious triflings of princes ; and you show 
your love for me in wishing that I may extricate 
myself from them. You can scarcely believe how 
unwillingly I am engaged in them. Nothing can be 
more odious than this legation. I am relegated to 
this little maritime town, of which both the surround- 
ings and the climate are unpleasant ; and if litigation, 
even at home, where it brings gain, is so abhorrent 
to my nature, how tedious must it be here, where it 
only brings loss ! " ^ 

Willy-nilly, he was thenceforth unable to defend 
himself any longer. His visits to Court became more 
frequent. The King could not do without him. In 
1508 he became a member of the Privy Council ; in 
1521 he was knighted, and never left his master 
again except upon numerous embassies. Finally, on 
October 25, 1529, he was appointed Lord Chancellor 
in place of Wolsey disgraced. London applauded, 
Erasmus grumbled, though not ill-pleased at heart 
to see a man of intellect at the head of affairs. But 
what was More's own opinion of it all ? 

He has stated it frankly in Utopia, and that book, 
1 B. i. 76, 


which was published in 1516, is certainly not the 
work of a restlessly ambitious man. The king, who 
had certainly read it, had found in it strange things 
and a barely disguised condemnation of his policy of 
conquest. When urged to give the republic the 
benefit of the experience of his numerous journeys, 
Raphael Hythloday shrugged his shoulders, saying 
that wisdom and justice were exiled for ever from 
the councils of kings. More himself, a less intract- 
able person, developed without undue enthusiasm 
the reasons which might permit a man of honour to 
embark on such offices. 

"That is it which I meant (quoth he) when I 
said philosophy had no place among kings. — Indeed 
(quoth I) this school philosophy hath not : which 
thinketh all things meet for every place. But there 
is another philosophy more civil, which knoweth, as 
ye would say, her own stage, and thereafter ordering 
and behaving herself in the play that she hath in 
hand, playeth her part accordingly with comeliness, 
uttering nothing out of due order and fashion. And 
this is the philosophy that you must use. Or else 
while a comedy of Plautus is playing ... if you 
should suddenly come upon the stage in a Philo- 
sopher's apparel and rehearse out of Octavia the 
place wherein Seneca disputeth with Nero : had it 
not been better for you to have played the dumb 
person, than by rehearsing that which served neither 
for the time nor place to have made such a tragical 
comedy or gallimaufry ? . . . What part soever you 
have taken upon you, play that as well as you 
can and make the best of it : and do not therefore 

B l8 


disturb and bring out of order the whole matter, 
because that another which is merrier and better 
Cometh to your remembrance. So the case standeth 
in a commonwealth, and so it is in the consultation 
of kings and princes. If evil opinions and naughty 
persuasions cannot be utterly and quite plucked out 
of their hearts, if you cannot even as you would 
remedy vices which use and custom have confirmed : 
yet for this cause you must not leave and forsake 
the commonwealth ; you must not forsake the ship 
in a tempest, because you cannot rule and keep 
down the winds. No, nor you must not labour to 
drive into their heads new and strange informations, 
which you know well shall be nothing regarded with 
them that be of clean contrary minds. But you 
must with a crafty wile and a subtle train steady 
and endeavour yourself, as much as in you lieth, to 
handle the matter wittily and handsomely for the 
purpose, and that which you cannot turn to good, so 
to order it that it be not very bad. For it is not 
possible for all things to be well, unless all men were 
good, which I think will not be this good many years."' 

There speaks More, or rather, there speaks com- 
mon-sense. None the less, Raphael has the last 
word. He rises with that easy eloquence of his, so 
dear to absolute minds, against the policy of " cast 
about " and the least evil. Compromise, compliance, 
these are the surest means of letting evil men go 
undisturbed. In every way the wise man cuts but a 
sad figure at Court. 

" For either I must say otherwise than they say, 
' Utopia^ book i. 


and then I were as good to say nothing, or else I 
must say the same that they say, and . . . help to 
further their madness." ^ 

The Chancellor of to-morrow makes no reply to the 
dilemma, does not even trouble to remind us that 
this impeccable logician of the policy of abstention 
was newly arrived from Utopia. 


Some have thought to render the memory of 
More a service by declaring that he took his place 
at Court and kept it so long only with the most utter 
repugnance. The human truth is not so simple but 
more interesting, and in my opinion quite as edifying. 
When we remember that in the happy land of the 
Utopians insignia of precious metals are reserved 
for criminals as a mark of infamy, it is easy to guess 
that More found no pleasure in hanging round his 
neck the heavy gold chain of the Chancellor. He 
had a very keen and English taste for independence, 
and the necessity of being constantly at the king's 
orders must have weighed on him heavier still. He 
had a horror of dice and cards, which were the 
commonest distraction or occupation of the Court. 
An enemy to every idea and desire of luxury, he 
must have composed or recalled a score of epigrams 
against the idle, brilliant crowd of courtiers. Anne 
Boleyn soon came to display the cultivated graces 
she had learned in France, and More was not the 

' Utopia, book i. 


man to be gentle with the vain folk who bartered 
the healthy rudenesses of their own country for 
foreign elegance. 

" Quisquis insula satus Britannica 
Sic patriam insolens fastidiet suam 
Ut more simiae laboret fingere 
Et aemulari gallicas ineptias." ' 

The atmosphere of futility, the lies that were soon 
to become tragic, the universal complaisance that 
was soon to reveal its shallow worthlessness, every- 
thing, in fact, tended to aggravate a servitude which 
kept him far from his family, his dear house at 
Chelsea, and his books. 

But he is not to be regarded as a sort of Alceste,^ 
the constant censor of a life in which nearly every- 
thing was foreign to him. His independence was not 
angular. His early biographers relate with a world 
of detail a scene in Parliament in which More is 
said to have put a check on the pride of the Cardinal 
and the commands of the king. It is difficult 
to unruvel what is true in the story from what is 
obviously legendary. Another anecdote is of less 
doubtful authenticity. At a discussion in the Privy 
Council More flatly opposed a measure introduced 
by the Cardinal. "You show yourself a foolish 
councillor, Master More," said the Cardinal. " I 
thank God," replied More, " that his royal High- 
ness has but one fool in his Council!" That is 
very like him, especially if the gesture and the smile 
which carried off the speech are not forgotten. In 
vain he disliked the Court ; he had the stuff of 

' Opera latina, p. 24. ' Lt Misanthrope of Moli^re. 


a courtier in him. Why not ? Suppleness, self- 
forgetfulness, a sense for necessary conciliation and 
management of others, a knowledge of the weak 
side on which the most violent are accessible, a 
desire to please, in fact the whole of that worldly 
art, seasoned with plenty of wit, is neither so insipid 
nor so contemptible when its use is not directed 
to petty vanity or personal advancement. Thomas 
More had no lack of wit, and of his pride as a 
Christian and a man of honour he was ready, when 
need arose, to give ample proof. Meanwhile, he is 
not prodigal of disagreement. So long as there is 
no question of a plain duty he lends himself adroitly 
and gracefully to the common need, and caresses 
the little foibles of the great folk around him with a 
pleasant mixture of amused respect and kindly irony, 
" When I was first in Almaine, Uncle " (Almaine 
was not a hundred miles from London) " it happed 
to me to be somewhat favoured with a great man of 
the Church and a great state, one of the greatest in 
all that country there " (Wolsey is easily recognis- 
able). ..." But glorious was he very far above all 
measures, and that was great pity, for it did harm, 
and made him abuse many great gifts that God 
had given him. Never was he satiate of hearing 
his own praise. So happed it one day, that 
he had in a great audience made an oration in a 
certain manner, wherein he liked himself so well 
that at his dinner he sat, him thought, on thorns, 
till he might hear how they that sat with him at his 
board would commend it. And when he had sat 
musing awhile, devising, as I thought after, upon 


some pretty proper way to bring it in withal, at the 
last, for lack of a better (lest he should have letted 
the matter too long), he brought it even bluntly forth, 
and asked us all . . . how well we liked his oration 
that he had made that day. But in faith. Uncle, 
when that problem was once proponed, till it was 
full answered, no man (I ween) ate one morsel of 
meat more. Every man was fallen in so deep a 
study for the finding of some exquisite praise." 
The story takes its course, for More is never in 
a hurry when writing. When it is finished, a new 
adventure, another personal reminiscence, no doubt, 
comes to show that it is not well to tell the truth 
to princes, even when they ask for it. Finally, the 
conversation ends with this agreeable moral, which 
More's supple and generous nature had no difficulty 
in putting into practice. 

" I can well allow that men should commend (keep- 
ing them within the bounds of truth) such things 
as they see praiseworthy in other men, to give them 
the greater courage to the increase thereof. For 
men keep still in that point one condition of children, 
that praise must prick them forth. But better it 
were to do well and look for none. Howbeit they 
that cannot find in their heart to commend another 
man's good deed, show themselves either envious, or 
else of nature very cold and dull." ' 

For instances of this cordial flattery we need only 

turn to More's letters to the Chancellor, Cardinal 

Wolsey. The Cardinal, who remained in London 

during the king's numerous journeys, regularly kept 

' A Dialogue of Comfort, iii,, chap, x., Of Flattery. 


his master informed of the progress of affairs. More 
usually accompanied Henry VIII. and replied for 
him to Wolsey, but not without finding means of 
breaking with the dull impersonality of the protocol. 

" The letter your Grace devised . . . his Grace 
so well liked, that I never saw him like thing better ; 
and, as help me God in my poor fantasy, not cause- 
less, for it is for the quantity one of the best-made 
letters for words, matter, sentence, and couching that 
ever I read in my life." 

" In the reding and advising of all which things, his 
Highness said that he perceived well what labour, 
study, pain, and travail your Grace had taken in the 
device and penning of so many, so great things, so 
high well despatched in so brief time, when the only 
reading thereof held him above two hours." ^ He 
takes a pleasure in dispensing to his correspondent 
the "food for self-congratulation" of which Nicole 
was to speak later. He is evidently delighted to 
communicate the royal commendations, and prove 
to the Cardinal that the king has affectionate 
thoughts of him. Henry VIII. having sent the 
minister the game killed in a hunt, IVIore replies to 
the letter of thanks that the king wished it had been 
much better.^ 

" The King," he wrote again, " was very joyful 
that . . . your Grace is so well in health as he 
heareth by divers ; and he saith that ye may thank 
his counsel thereof by which ye leave the often 
taking of medicines that ye were wont to use."- 

' Ellis, i. pp. 203, 204, 206. 

2 Letters and Papers, iii. 3298. ^ Ellis, i. pp. 197, 198. 


This simplicity, no doubt, is characteristic of the 
times, but More's merit consists in thus collecting 
for the Cardinal's benefit the smallest scraps of the 
king's attentions, and that at a time when no one 
was deeper in Henry VIII. 's confidence than himself. 


That brings us to one of the most curious features 
of his character as courtier. It has been said of 
More, and not without justice, that his daughter 
Margaret was the single passion of his life. But I 
question whether another person, king Henry 
himself, had not also a special place in his faithful 
heart, and if More's consent, after his first inter- 
views with the king, to devote himself entirely to his 
service, was not given to a certain extent in obedience 
to the call of a respectful affection. There is nothing 
surprising in the supposition, when we recall the 
absolute fascination that the king was long able to 
throw over the most eminent men about him. 

" To no sovereign," says Brewer, " did ministers 
ever dedicate themselves, head and heart, body and 
soul, with more intense devotion. . . . His praise 
was coveted as famishing men crave for bread. . . . 
Had Henry been the wilful, capricious, and self- 
indulgent monarch he is sometimes represented, the 
intense personal devotion of such men as Wolsey, 
Cromwell, More, Gardiner, Fitzwilliam . . . would 
have been the most unintelligible paradox in 
history." i 

' ieUers and Papers t iii. pp. ccxci., ccjtciiv 


" He is so affable and courteous to all men," said 
More, " that each one thinks himself his favourite, 
even as the citizens' wives imagine that Our Lady's 
picture at the Tower smiles upon them as they pray 
before it." ^ The remark shows a wary mind, that was 
not so swiftly to be drawn into excess of confidence. 
To tell the truth, it seems that More was not long 
under any illusion on the durability of the King's 
favour. We shall find him presently expressing 
himself pretty freely to his son-in-law. Roper, but to 
the end he remained under the spell. 

Writing to Fisher, he said : " I have come to 
Court entirely against my will, and as the King 
himself often jestingly reproaches me for. And I 
am as uncomfortable as a carpet knight in the 
saddle. . . . Yet such is the virtue and learning of 
the King, and his daily increasing progress in both, 
that the more I see him increase in these kingly 
ornaments, the less troublesome the courtiers' life 
becomes to me." ^ 

Roper's is the classical and permanent account 
of the long friendship between Henry VI 11. and 
Thomas More. The King used "upon holy days, 
when he had done his own devotions, to send for 
him into his traverse, and there — sometimes in 
matters of astronomy, geometry, divinity, and such 
other faculties, and sometimes of his worldly affairs 
— to sit and confer with bim. And other whiles, in 
the night, would he have him up into the leads, 
there to consider with him the diversities, courses, 
motions, and wperations of the stars and planets. 
' 6. i, l€8k ^ Stapleton, cap. vii. ; Hutton, p. 149. 


And because he was of a pleasant disposition, it 
pleased the King and Queen, after the council had 
supped, at the time of their supper, for their pleasure 
commonly to call for him to be merry with them. 
When he perceived them so much in his talk to 
delight, that he could not once in a month get leave 
to go home to his wife and children (whose company 
he most desired), and to be absent from the Court 
two days together but that he should be thither sent 
for again : he, much misliking this restraint of his 
liberty, began thereupon somewhat to dissemble his 
nature, and ... by little and little, from his former 
mirth to disuse himself. . . . 

" And for the pleasure he took in his company 
would his Grace suddenly sometimes come home to 
his house at Chelsea to be merry with him, whither, 
on a time, unlooked for, he came to dinner, and after 
dinner, in a fair garden of his, walked with him." 

From the windows, the whole family were follow- 
ing, with grateful surprise, the slightest gestures of 
the two who walked below. 

" // me dit : Bonjour, ma chire, 
Bonjour, ma cMre : 
II vous cl parli, grand-mire, 
II vous A parli. " ' 

Be it Napoleon or Henry VIII., it is still the same 
instinct of loyalism which the blackest crimes of 
tyrants cannot stifle in the hearts of faithful subjects. 
All those years after, Roper had not forgotten that 

^ " He said to me : ' Good day, my dear, good day, my dear.' 
lie spoke to you, grandmamma, he spoke to you ! " (B^ranger). 


during the whole hour that intimate conversation 
lasted the king, who was taller than More, had his 
arm round his friend's neck. " As soon as his Grace 
was gone, I, rejoicing thereat, said to Sir Thomas 
More, how happy he was whom the King had so 
familiarly entertained, as I never had seen him do to 
any before, except Cardinal. Wolsey, whom I saw 
his Grace walk once with arm in arm. ' I thank our 
Lord, son,' quoth he, ' I find his Grace my very 
good lord indeed, and I believe he doth as singularly 
favour me as any subject within this realm : howbeit, 
son Roper, I may tell thee, I have no cause to be 
proud thereof, for if my head would win him a castle 
in Prance (for then there was war between us), it 
should not fail to go.' " 

These reminiscences of the time when More was 
at the height of his enjoyment of the King's friend- 
ship serve to explain how it was that the political 
action of the future Chancellor was always restrained 
and effaced. A witty talker, looked to for an hour 
of intellectual distraction, an honourable man, whose 
friendship it was a pride to possess, a man of letters 
and a scholar, to be consulted on the motions of the 
stars or the best way of replying to an objection of 
Luther's — More was all that to Henry VIII., but 
nothing more. " That More's name," says Father 
Bridgett, " does not appear much more prominently 
during these years in English history is greatly due 
to his want of ambition." i That seems to me a kind 
of praise ill-calculated to advance the glory of our 
beatified hero. He had been called, whether he 
' B. i. 153. 


would or not, to public life, and ambition, the ambi- 
tion, that is, of directing the power of the sovereign 
towards the greatest good, would have been nothing 
less than a duty. But to a minister of Henry VIII. 
such aims were closed. More had no call to refuse 
an authority that was never offered him. An absolute 
monarch in the full meaning of the phrase, Henry 
would have none about him but advisers-, secretaries, 
or flatterers. Even Wolsey's reign was far shorter 
than many historians imagine, and the Cardinal 
often took upon himself the responsibility of un- 
popular measures which had secretly emanated from 
a higher quarter. " Wolsey," says Mr Gairdner, . . . 
" even bore at times the unpopularity of measures 
which were not his own when the king required a 
scape-goat ; and it is wonderful how in the early 
years of the reign people seemed to be convinced 
that ' the king could do no wrong.' " i More's early 
biographers, who are witnesses to contemporary 
opinion, attack the Cardinal to the extent of in- 
sinuating that the whole affair of the divorce was 
due entirely to his machinations.^ 

The publication of the State Papers proves this 
legend to be groundless. " Though Henry VIII.," 
says Mr Gairdner again, "was well aware that 
Wolsey was his most sagacious adviser and most 
practical man of business, it was he himself who in 
all cases decided on the line of action to be followed, 
while Wolsey devised means of accomplishing the 

' History of the English Church, chap. ii. pp. i8, 19. 
" In revenge, according to them, against the Emperor, who had 
prevented his being elected Pope. 


intended objects." i Now, that being so, if Wolsey, 
who began by being absolute master, was so soon 
compelled to abdicate, it is easy to understand that 
More, who followed him, and moreover cared little 
for leading roles, had less authority still. And here 
let us take the opportunity to reply, in passing, to 
those whose animosity against Wolsey has persuaded 
them at all costs to make out that he and Sir Thomas 
More were enemies. The truth is that, so long as 
Wolsey was Chancellor, and while More, under his 
authority, was rapidly ascending the ladder, not of 
power, but of honours, they walked shoulder to 
shoulder,^ the Cardinal leaning with absolute con- 
fidence on a loyal protigi, whom he knew to be in- 
capable of manoeuvring against him, and More full 
of deference for a minister whose high worth he 
knew and whose influence retarded the complete 
victory of the King's boon companions. 

In 1529, when the king appointed More to succeed 
the Cardinal, the battle was lost, and we shall see 
shortly the spirit in which he resigned himself to 
the dignity which he clearly foresaw could mean 
nothing to him but the beginning of the final 

No chance of direct action being offered him. 
More remained throughout his political career 

' Ibid., cap. V. p. 66. 

' Except, of course, on the question of the divorce, in which 
More, without condemning Wolsey's proceedings, refused to take 
any part. 


simply the subordinate of Wolsey and the king. 
The monumental collection of public and private 
papers relating to this epoch leaves no doubt on that 
point. When he accompanies Henry VIII. to the 
Field of the Cloth of Gold (1520), when he stands 
at the Cardinal's side in the Cathedral at Amiens 
during the signature of the treaty of peace between 
France and England (1527), or himself, as minister 
plenipotentiary, signs the treaty of peace of Cambray 
(1529), he is still skirting the leading parts without 
ever taking his stand in the centre of the stage. The 
barrister turned courtier at the king's importunity 
found it easy to adapt himself to this impersonal 
kind of work, and the philosopher of Utopia, well 
aware of the trust that may be put in princes, drew 
up treaties and signed official undertakings which 
others vi'ould take care to see broken. The man of 
letters relieved the pettiness of such a life by polish- 
ing the Latin speeches which the King bade him 
deliver on great occasions ; and the Christian, by 
sweetly recalling, in the midst of all these earthly 
cares, the truths of the gospel. Sir Arthur Pole, 
having been unjustly treated by the Earl of Arundel, 
made a complaint to Henry VIII.; the king, in 
great anger, bade More write to the culprit very 
sternly. The Letters and Papers state simply that 
More thought it best to send him " a loving letter 
first." 1 It is unnecessary to add that More, as the 
depositary of other people's secrets, was more im- 
penetrable than ever. More than once, foreign 
ambassadors wrote to their governments that they 
' B. i. 170. 


had tried in vain to make him speak. It was im- 
possible, writes one of them, to get " the slightest 
hint." 1 

Another passage, taken from the Venetian des- 
patches, shows how highly he was esteemed by all. 
In 1518, Wolsey had selected him and Richard Pace 
to negotiate the removal of a tax on wine. " They 
are," writes the Venetian ambassador, "the most 
sage, most virtuous, and most linked with myself of 
any in England. I suspect, however, that this promise 
will not be performed, because Pace is known to be 
devoted to the Signory and iVlore to justice." ^ 

The last phrase serves also to sum up that part of 
More's public life which entailed more initiative and 
independence. Even before he received the great 
seal, his position gave him a sort of upper hand over 
the administration of justice. His biographers, and 
among them Erasmus, naively insist on the con- 
scientious integrity which was proof against every 
gift. Nisard relates that "after his fall, inquiries 
were made into his long judicial career to see if he 
had never received a present of sufficient value to 
justify a charge of corruption. With a single word, 
an anecdote, or a piece of rebutting evidence, More 
was able to dispel every charge brought against him, 
and put to shame the plaintiffs suborned by the 
Court. Now it was a lady who had sent him money 
and gloves ; granted, but it was only the gloves he 
kept, as it would be 'against good manners to 
forsake a gentlewoman's New Year's gift.' Now 
it was a client who had sent a richly chased gold 
• B. i. 169. = Ibid., p. 166. 


cup ; true, but he had presented him in return with 
a more valuable cup, as he did not wish to receive 
presents, and could not resist the pleasure of keeping 
the fine piece of chasing. 

" The gravest charge was brought by one Parnell, 
and was preferred by Anne Boleyn's father, the 
Marquis of Wiltshire, a mortal enemy of More's, 
and one of the King's instruments, who was not 
ashamed to expose his share in this monstrous ex- 
hibition of retrospective justice. Parnell complained 
bitterly of having lost a case against one Vaughan, 
whose wife, he declared, had given More a magnificent 
silver-gilt cup. More, writes Roper, ' forthwith con- 
fessed that forasmuch as that cup was, long after 
the foresaid decree, brought him for a New Year's 
gift, he, upon her importunate pressing upon him 
thereof, of courtesy refused not to receive it. Then 
the Lord of Wiltshire, . . . with much rejoicing, 
said unto the lords: 'So, my lords, did I not tell 
you, my lords, that you should find this matter 
true?' The judges, who looked to the Court for 
their fees, had already stood up to condemn him, 
when More 'desired their lordships that, as they 
had heard him courteously tell the one part of his 
tale, so that they would vouchsafe of their honours 
indifferently to hear the other.' After which ob- 
tained, he farther declared unto them, that albeit 
he had indeed with much work received that cup, 
yet immediately thereupon caused he his butler to 
fill it with wine, and of that cup drank to her, and 
that when he had so done and she pledged him, then 
as freely as her husband had given it to him even so 


freely gave he the same again to her to give unto her 
husband for his New Year's gift; which, at his 
instant request, though much against her will, at 
length yet she was fain to receive, as herself and 
certain others there present before them deposed." 
The judges, the plaintiff, and the Marquis were 
dumfounded; More had been unable to resist the 
pleasure of raising their hopes by his first statement 
in order to dash them the more by his explanation. 

Nisard continues : " The new Chancellor set in 
motion all the cases that were standing over, and 
gave a powerful and useful impulsion to every branch 
of the judicature, which, for want of a controlling 
force, were all grown slack. The magisterial 
virtues of probity, integrity, and vigilance were 
never carried to a higher pitch than by him. In 
more settled times, when promptitude and certainty 
in the judgment of cases would have been con- 
sidered of paramount importance in a vast state, 
More's administration would have been sufficiently 
useful and honourable to win him the recognition of 
his right to be relieved of all other business. But, 
as men's minds and civilisation were then, his appli- 
cation to the duties of his office was not appreciated, 
and no one gave him any credit for it, except pos- 
sibly some few clients who were pining for a settle- 
ment of their cases, and whom More rescued from 
the hands of the courts below. The nation, which 
wanted him elsewhere, hardly thanked him for 
services he had not been asked to perform. 

" In cases where law and common-sense agreed. 
More showed the only quality demanded of an 

n i8 


officer of justice, promptitude. In cases where 
common-sense and law were in opposition, he 
tempered each with the other. In unforeseen 
cases, he exercised a kind of ingenious equity, like 
Solomon's, which was rather shrewd than exalted, 
and had, if we may say so, a touch of the rustic 
about it. The instances given show his wit to 
have had an antique flavour. A fine dog had been 
stolen from a poor woman and sold to Lady More. 
The animal's real mistress, learning where he was, 
appeared before the Chancellor, then sitting in 
court, and complained that Lady More was detain- 
ing her dog. The Chancellor immediately bade 
summon his wife. Taking the dog in his hands, 
and placing Lady More at the upper end of the 
hall, on account of her rank, and the poor woman at 
the lower end, he ordered them both to call the dog. 
On hearing the voice of his first mistress the animal 
ran straight to her. 'The dog does not belong to 
you,' said More to his wife ; ' you must do without 
it.' And when his wife protested against his de- 
cision, the Chancellor bought the dog for three 
times its value, and every one was pleased. 

" While still under-sheriff of the city of London, 
he had remarked at the Newgate sessions an old 
judge who always blamed the people who had had 
their purses stolen, telling them it was their fault 
that so many cases of thieving came before the 
assizes. More sent for one of the cleverest thieves 
in Newgate prison, and promised to defend him if 
he would steal the old judge's purse at the next 
day's sitting of the court. The thief consented. 


His case came on at the beginning of the morrow's 
sitting. He declared himself confident of proving 
his innocence if he might have leave to speak to 
one of the judges in private. On being asked which, 
he indicated the old judge who blamed the victims 
of theft. In those days the purse was worn 
suspended from the belt. While pleading in the 
judge's ear and keeping his attention fixed, he neatly 
cut off his purse, and came back to his place with 
an air of great solemnity. Then More addressed the 
court. He asked the judges of their charity to give 
alms to a poor wretch who was present, and himself 
set the example. The hands of all the bench went 
to their purses, and the old judge, finding that his 
was gone, cried out that he had been robbed. 
' What,' cried More, jesting, ' would you accuse 
us of having robbed you?' The judge began to 
get angry. More summoned the thief, took the 
purse from him, and restoring it to the old judge : 
' I would counsel you,' said he, ' to be less severe 
on the poor folk who have their purses stolen, since 
you let your own be taken before the whole court.' " i 

These tales are unfortunately the most definite 
information that survives on the public life of the 
author of Utopia. My first intention was to sum 
them up in two lines, until I reflected that it 
would be far more telling to quote them at full 
length from a grave professor of the Sorbonne. 
More, who had no faith in human glory, would have 
relished the irony of it. 

The story of the Chancellor's dealings with the 
1 Nisard, Atudes sur la Renaissance, Thomas More, vii. 


first English Protestants also properly belongs to 
this chapter. It is, indeed, the most important part 
of it, but by reason of that very importance it 
deserves to be treated separately and in some 



An non clementer odit impios, qui quum hateat jus occidendi, 
ita studet mederi vitiis, ut homines ipsi sint incolumes. ... 
Et supremum Angliae judicem volebant connivere donee impune 
talis coUuvies inundaret in regnum, et opibus et ingeniis et 
religione cum primis ilorens. . . . Nemo plus non optat ecclesiae 
mores emendates ; at nemo prudens existimat recipiendam rerum 
omnium confusionem (Erasmus, _/. Fabio episcopo Vitnnensi).^ 

\^7HEN Henry VIII. published his book against 
^ ' Luther in 1521, and two years later, when 
More issued his Vindicatio Henrici VIII. a calumniis 
Lutheri ^ under the pseudonym of G. Rosseus, there 
was no appearance of serious menace to the Church 
of England from Lutheranism. The ideas of the 
German monk, however, were beginning to creep 
into the two ancient universities. About 1525 
people vrere said, in the slang of Cambridge, to go 
to Germany when they went to the " White Horse " 
tavern to discuss, among the initiated, the reform of 
the Church. On December 24, 1525, Robert Barns, 
the prior of the Augustines in the town, preached a 
sermon against the " special observances " of the 

' Erasmus, Epist., London, p. 1506. 

* This work is commonly attributed to More ; cf.'&.K. 222. 


feast of Christmas. But anything like a popular 
movement appeared to be still a long way off, when 
the appearance of Tyndale's New Testament made 
the danger grave and pressing.^ 

Tyndale was Luther's earliest lieutenant, the first 
missionary of the infant heresy in England. I can 
only regret that the scope of this little book prevents 
my dwelling at leisure on this singular figure. In 
the early stages, at any rate, he was scrupulous in 
going to Germany to receive or renew his orders, 
and it is not always easy to distinguish, either in his 
life or his writings, what is properly his from what 
he drew from his master. Whether it were he or 
Luther who had the first clear intuition of the forces 
of revolutionary mysticism that were ever ready to 
ferment in the English people, I should not like to 
say ; but in any case Tyndale displayed real genius 
in the anarchic propaganda. With a great power of 
rousing ideas and polemic ability of the highest 
order, he had the dry and vigorous eloquence of men 
of narrowly logical minds who can push on their 
work of destruction without a tremor of respect or 
pity to unsteady their hands. Only once does he 
show a touch of tenderness, in a letter full of 
haughty humility which he wrote to Frith, his most 
attractive, indeed his only attractive disciple. In 
reading these indomitable words, a Frenchman 
cannot help thinking, against his own will, of the 
great Arnaud and of Pascal. Frith was in prison, 

' Gairdnei, A History of the English Church, from Henry VIII. 
to Mary, pp. 89, 90, and chap, x ; Gasquet, The Eve of the 
Reformation, chap. vii. 


and Tyndale, who had not long to live, encourages 
him to be staunch, and develops his plan of cam- 
paign.i In truth, these heretics were mighty 
agitators. They scatter their seditious pamphlets 
far and wide as freely as nowadays we scatter 
advertisements. " They send them hither," wrote 
More, " by the whole fat^-fuU at once, and in some 
places, looking for no lucre, cast them abroad by 
night." 8 

In these pamphlets the whole edifice of the old 
faith was violently undermined. There was to be 
one sole authority, the Bible. Armed with that 
book, the meanest peasant might hold his own against 
the most learned theologian. More, it was the duty 
of every man to take up the war against the reign- 
ing superstition. To break a crucifix or force open 
a tabernacle was a work of piety ; and if the execu- 
tioner appears on the scene, the joyful " brethren " 
hail the stake or the gallows with the enthusiasm of 

It is clear that we are no longer dealing with a 
handful of men of intellect playing at reformers in a 
Cambridge inn. The deadly doctrine is winding its 
way through the crowd, seizing in its toils the simple 
and passionate souls who know nothing of fine dis- 
tinctions, and are turned in an instant by a single 
half-comprehended idea into men of conviction on 
fire to carry out their belief in action. And, finally, 
that the gravity of the circumstances may be com- 

' Tyndale's Works, published by the Parker Society, 
i. p. liii. 
2 i.e. barrel or bale, ' English Works, pp. 341-44. 


plete, the king himself ere long begins , secretly to 
encourage the revolt against the Church.^ From 
every quarter comes the roar of schism, and there is 
only just time to think of resistance. 


Unhappily, with the exception of a few priests 
and the noble Bishop of Rochester, one of the 
greatest saints of modern times, most of the natural 
defenders of the faith did not seem to grasp the 
danger. But a layman was on the watch. So long 
as politics alone were concerned More had no diffi- 
culty in resigning himself to hold his high office 
simply as a depositary of others' orders ; but now 
that souls were at stake, his duty appeared to him 
independent of external command. The artist in 
letters, who had hitherto occupied his mind in 
describing the island of Utopia and turning elegant 
Latin verses, set to work to reply with all his 
erudition and spirit to the enemy's pamphlets ; and 
at the same time, until the king should raise his 
mask, the Chancellor used every means offered him 
by the law to arrest the heretical propaganda. The 
grand-justiciar of the kingdom, he lent the support 
of the " secular arm " to the threatened Church. 
The obligation to do so seemed to him rigorous and 
indisputable, and he would be none too pleased to 
find us defending him against himself by the insinua- 
tion that so true a liberal and one so far in advance 
' Gairdner, ibid. 


of the ideas of his age must have lent himself with 
regret to the application of the ancient public right 
that had still the force of law. " As touching 
heretics, I hate that vice of theirs and not their 
persons, and very fain would I that the one were 
destroyed and the other saved. But that I have 
toward no man any other mind than this — how 
loudly soever these blessed new brethren and pro- 
fessors and preachers of heresy belie me — if all the 
favour and pity that I have used among them to their 
amendment were known, it would, I warrant you, 
well and plain appear ; whereof, if it were requisite, 
I could bring forth witnesses more than men would 

" Howbeit, because it were neither right nor honesty 
that any man should look for more thank than he de- 
serveth, I will that all the world wit it on the other 
side, that whoso be so deeply grounded in malice, to the 
harm of his own soul and other men's too, and so set 
upon the sowing of seditious heresies, that no good 
means that men may use unto him can pull that mali- 
cious folly out of his poisoned, proud, obstinate heart, 
I would rather be content that he were gone in time, 
than overlong to tarry to the destruction of other." i 

" That he were gone in time." The veiled peri- 
phrasis betrays the hand of the man of letters ; but 
if the dread word is not actually launched, there is 
no mistaking the meaning. There we see what 
Nisard calls the " terrible body of doctrine," and 
then, beyond question, some spots of blood on the 
ermine of Sir Thomas More. 

' Apology, cap. xlix, ; B. i. 255. 



We have travelled far, it seems, from the precious 
little book of Utopia, the earliest gospel of the 
modern idea of tolerance. King Utopus, indeed, 
finding his island torn by religious factions, put an 
end to the disorder by proclaiming absolute liberty of 
conscience. And in doing so, says More, whom I 
am here broadly summing up, he intended to act not 
solely for the sake of peace, but also. in the interests 
of religion itself. Who can tell, to start veith, that 
this variety of cults was against the will of God; 
and, in the second place, is it not impertinent and 
absurd to try and force one's own point of view 
upon other people by threats and violence ? Even 
supposing that there should be one sole true religion.i 
the natural force of truth would break down all 
obstacles by degrees, and the light would soon shine 
forth of its own radiance in men of good will and 
free from prejudice. 

There was one exception only to limit this uni- 
versal liberty. Whoever did not believe in the life 
to come was dismissed from all office and given over 
to the public hatred. But even then all violent 
measures were illegal, for in that country " they be 
pursuaded that it is in no man's power to believe 
what he list." 

Nothing can be plainer than these wise laws; 

' The gospel had not been preached in Utopia. 


they are the necessary charter of every society in 
which doctrinal unity has been broken. But we 
must understand them very ill to find in them a 
condemnation by anticipation of the attitude of Sir 
Thomas More. On the eve of the Lutheran in- 
vasion, England, so far from being broken up into a 
thousand discordant sects, unanimously accepted a 
single rule of faith. Moreover, the heretics had no 
mind to be content with the weapons of peace in the 
war they were declaring on the established order. 
Less subtle than our modern persecutors, they, at 
any rate, did not pride themselves on their tolerance. 
"Tie these holy idle thieves to the carts," wrote 
Fish of the monks, " to be whipped naked about 
every market town." ^ The rest of the programme 
was to be on similar lines. Finally, and perhaps 
chiefly, the peace of religion was not the only thing 
troubled by these apostles of the new gospel. They 
menaced also, and of inevitable consequence, the 
whole of the social order. The war of the peasants 
in Germany recalled to More's mind the atrocities 
his own country had suffered in the days of the 
Lollards, and he foresaw with surprising precision 
the catastrophes that must follow the triumph of the 
new revolution. What is there to add ? As I close 
this passage, which, after all, is very like a speech 
for the defence, I cannot help wondering what More 
would have thought of this modern feebleness of 
ours. We have not learned even yet that the worst 
malefactors in the world are the apostles of anarchy. 

• Simon Fish, A Supplication for the Beggars, 1529 (Arber 
Reprint, 1878, p. 13). 


Impenitent liberals that we are, though possibly 
somewhat lukewarm, we still blush if any one lays a 
finger on the sacred rights of free thought, and we 
take no heed of the fact that with our would-be 
tolerance we play straight into the hands of the 
most dangerous enemies of liberty. 

There is no call, then, to recognise any contradic- 
tion between the theories of the philosopher and the 
practice of the chancellor. The inconsistency, if 
any there be, lay elsewhere, and shall be pointed 
out at once. 

Here is a flagrant case of it. More was in power. 
The moment had come, therefore, for him to strike 
a blow for the Church and make the heretics to 
vanish. What actually happened? Froude, it is 
true, informs us that no sooner was Wolsey dis- 
graced than the fires of Smithfield were rekindled, 
but Froude had a genius for inaccuracy. The truth 
is, on the contrary, that one year and then another 
went by, with no sign of smoke at Smithfield, and 
not a single heretic condemned to death. And the 
reason was, not that they had become prudent and 
succeeded in escaping More's vigilance, but that 
all the suspected persons who came before the 
Chancellor he sent on, if he failed to dissuade them 
from their errors himself, to the bishops, who, under 
a recent decree, had power to imprison heretics. 
His own words give a good idea of the way he 
conducted these interrogatories. 

" Whom ... I sent for. And when I had spoken 
with him, and honestly entreated him one day or 
twain in mine house, and laboured about his 


amendment in as hearty loving manner as I 
could. . . ."1 

There was another, named Silver. After examining 
him, More said to him with his customary humour : 
" Silver must be tried by the fire." " Ay," said 
Silver, " but quicksilver will not abide it ; " ^ and 
More, holding that a man of wit could not be a 
dangerous fanatic, absolved him and let him go.^ 
Later, when More himself was on his trial, a number 
of people petitioned not against him, but against the 
bishops with whom he had agreed to save them from 
death, alleging too severe imprisonment. But even 
at such a moment, when Cromwell and the rest 
were on the watch for any additional charge to 
bring against him, both the Lords and the Council 
were obliged to acknowledge that the complaints of 
these condemned persons were inadmissible, and 
that if he was guilty of any offence with regard to 
them, it was that of excessive leniency; "that he 
was too easily dealt with and had wrong that he 
was no worse served." * 

During the last months of More's administration 
there were four executions. It is quite possible that 
the number is overstated,^ and in any case, the 

J English Works, p. 905. On the same page More remarks 
that " albeit that he said that the clergy loved him not (he) 
seemed not yet very loth to go to the bishop's prison." 

' Hutton, p. 221. 3 Ibid. * B. i. 270. 

' Erasmus, it is true, says that under More's government no 
one lost his life for the new faith, afid Nisard writes : " I know 
that Thomas More never slew ! " (p. 246). But it seems to be 
proved that Th. Hilton was executed on the 23rd February 1530, 
and Th. Bilney, R. Bayfield, and J. Tewkesbury in 1531. Cf. 
Gairdner, pp. \z<j-yz. It remains to be questioned whether 


sufferers being men who after being once absolved 
and reconciled to the Church had then relapsed and 
resumed their propaganda, the law was precise and 
the Chancellor had no power to pardon them. But 
I , certainly have no wish to romanticise history 
myself, and insinuate that when More countersigned 
the warrants, however it came about that he did so, 
he was bound to experience the scruples of a modern 
jury. In those days common thieves were punished 
with death without a thought. On principle the 
law had the entire approbation of the Chancellor, 
and in punishing the crime of heresy he believed 
himself to be doing his duty neither more nor less 
than when he sent a murderer to the gallows, I 
would only remark that, before the final condemna- 
tion, he was so far from being enraged with the 
guilty that he tried every possible chance of safety 
in their favour, and remind my readers that the last 
prayer of the condemned men was but one more 
act of homage to the humanity of the Chancellor : 
" God, open the eyes of Sir Thomas More 1 " ^ 

a loyal subject is at liberty to say that a minister of justice 
"slays" a condemned man whom he delivers up to execution in 
accordance with the verdict of the assizes. 

' The reader may notice a slight hesitation in this paragraph. 
The reason of it is that I am not quite able to determine the exact 
responsibility of the Chancellor in these four executions. Legally, 
as the condemned were backsliders, the sentence of the bishop 
was equivalent to a death-sentence. May we suppose that in 
practice there was a last appeal in such cases to the royal mercy ; 
and, if there were any precedent for such a proceeding, did More 
think of applying it ? I should not like to say, and my own 
opinion inclines rather to the negative. It was at Chelsea, in 
More's house, that the Bishop of London condemned Tewkesbury. 



Their friends were less honest. They went about 
declaring that the examination of the martyrs in the 
garden at Chelsea was accompanied by shocking 
cruelties. They were tied to trees and beaten till 
the blood came. Meanwhile, if any money fell from 
their pockets, the avaricious Chancellor was not 
above seizing the windfall. Having whetted his 
appetite with this delightful prelude, he followed his 
unhappy victims to the Tower, to gloat over the 
spectacle of their sufferings. Thirty years after 
iWore's death, Poxe collected these lies in his Pro- 
testant martyrology and established the legend of 
the bloody Chancellor which the gravest historians 
have religiously accepted. The legend descended to 
the days of Froude, who in repeating it bewails the 
fact that the spirit of persecution can thus " co-exist 
with the fairest graces of the human character." i 

Fortunately More himself — who might easily have 
been consulted — has replied to these calumnies in 
advance, and made his confession before the public with 
a tranquil good-nature that commands confidence. 

" What cannot these brethren say that can be so 
shameless to say thus ? For of very truth, albeit 
that for a great robbery or a heinous murder . . . 
I caused sometimes such things to be done by some 
officers of the Marshalsea, or of some other prisons, 
with which ordering of them ... I found out and 
repressed many such desperate wretches as else had 
' History of England, ii. p. 73. 


not failed to have gone farther ; yet saving the sure 
keeping of heretics, I never did cause any such thing 
to be done to any of them in all my life, except only 
twain. Of which the one was a child and a servant 
of mine in mine own house, whom his father had, ere 
ever he came with me, nursled up in such matters, 
and had set him to attend upon George Jaye or Gee, 
otherwise called Clerk, which is a priest, and is now 
for all that wedded in Antwerp, into whose house 
then the two nuns were brought whiph John Birt, 
otherwise called Adrian, stole out of their cloister to 
make them harlots. This George Jaye did teach 
this child ungracious heresy against the Blessed 
Sacrament of the altar, which heresy this child 
afterwards, being in service with me, began to teach 
another child in my house, which uttered his counsel. 
And upon that point perceived, 1 caused a servant 
of mine to stripe him like a child before mine house- 
hold, for amendment of himself and an example of 
such other." 

The other was a Protestant who had gone mad 
and been confined in Bedlam. On his release, he 
took to brawling in churches during the offices and 
committing acts of great indecency. More had him 
arrested by the police, tied to a tree in the street, 
and beaten with a birch. That was sufficient, he 
adds, " to beat his remembrance home " ; he pro- 
mised to be wise, and no more was heard of him. 

" And of all that ever came in my hand for heresy, 
, . . had never any of them any stripe or stroke 
given them, so much as a fillip on the forehead." i 

^ Apology, cap. xxxvi. ; B, i.267, 268. 


"These are sacred words," adds Nisard, after 
giving a full translation of this evidence, vs^hich is 
the corner-stone of his work on Thomas More. In 
his introduction he had written as follows : " If I 
say that the discovery of this confession made me 
as happy for several days as a happy family event, 
my delight will be understood and my good fortune 
envied." ^ The naive emotion of so upright a man 
checks the smile on our lips, but we are compelled 
at last to remark that his passionate desire to prove 
that More " never slew " has led the excellent 
Nisard astray. More is replying here to a particular 
accusation, and is merely defending himself on the 
charge of having ill-treated the heretics brought 
before his tribunal. It is clear, too, that his state- 
ment is sufficient to settle this historical point. 

" Howbeit, what faith my words will have with 
him {i.e. his anonymous accuser), in these mine own 
causes I cannot very surely say, nor yet very greatly 
care. And yet stand I not in so much doubt of 
myself, but that I trust well that among many good 
and honest men . . . mine own word would alone, 
even in mine own cause, be somewhat better believed 
than would the oaths of some twain of this new 
brotherhood in a matter of another man." ^ 

-V V 

More as author deserves a separate study, but I 
must say a few words here on his controversial 

' Pp. 240, 243. Unfortunately Nisard is very rhetorical all 
through the chapter. The idea of it is to show "the noble 
struggle . . . between nature and the law," in More's conscience. 

* Apology, cap. xxxvi. 

H ■» 


writings. They have been bitterly criticised, and 
men who have obviously never read them have 
reproached him with equalling his adversaries in 
coarseness and violence. The accusation will not 
stand for a moment. More, as polemic, is certainly 
without pity, not only for the errors, but often for 
the persons he is attacking, and he rarely refrains 
from his fill of gibing at the private disorders of the 
" Evangelicals." But he himself confesses his 
inability to give them a full reply in their own 

" If any of them use their words at their pleasure, 
as evil and as villainous as they list, against myself, 
I am content to forbear any requiting thereof, and 
give them no worse words again than if they speak 
me fair. For all shall be one to me, or rather the 
worse the better. For the pleasant oil of heretics 
cast upon mine head can do my mind no pleasure, 
but contrariwise, the worse that such folk write of 
me, for hatred that they bear to the Catholic Church 
and faith, the greater pleasure, as for my own part, 
they do me. But surely their railing against all 
other I purpose not to bear so patiently, as to forbear 
to let them hear some part of like language as they 
speak. Howbeit utterly to match them therein, I 
neither can though 1 would, nor will neither though 
I could, but am content, as 1 needs must, to give 
them therein the mastery, wherein to match them 
were more rebuke than honesty." ^ 

He knew therefore how far the liberty of-the pen 
might go, and the limits which a Christian and 
' B. i. 296 ; Apology, cap. ix. 


a gentleman must not pass. Whether he allowed 
himself too much licence, or whether in the heat of 
his passion he overstepped the bounds he had laid 
down, is a delicate question, and one which a 
proper understanding of it makes one hesitate to 

Here and there we find phrases that startle, and 
in particular, a certain passage in Latin on the 
sources of the inspiration of Luther. But it is well 
known that in those days the most refined stood 
very little on ceremony. As to the personal contro- 
versy which often approaches and sometimes reaches 
insult, contemporary licence is not a sufficient ex- 
cuse for such a man as More. But here again, can 
any one decide where the rights and necessities of 
polemics in 1530 began and ended? In writings of 
this kind, IVlore was properly doing the work of a 
journalist. He was not addressing people of refine- 
ment, but the vulgar herd, which was stirred up 
every day by filthy pamphlets, not against ideas 
but against persons. 

With a public of that kind, it was not enough to be 
right — indeed, with what public is it enough ? The 
best argument in the world is nothing compared 
with a biting repartee, a direct and decisive b'ow 
that makes the assailant look ridiculous. And 
further, disgust can reach a point at which it 
becomes untranslatable into measured words. Let 
those of us whose tongues have never burned with 
a brutal epithet in the presence of certain renegades 
and public malefactors, cast the first stone at Sir 
Thomas More. For my own part, I could not ; but 


the fact remains that I have no hesitation in agree- 
ing with Brewer that certain passages in these 
writings pain me " like the misconduct of a dear 
friend. For round no man in this great reign," 
he writes, " do our sympathies gather so strongly as 
round More ; in no man is humanity with' its various 
modes, — its sun and shadow, its gentleness and 
kindliness, its sorrows and misgivings, — so attrac- 
tively presented as in More. But this was precisely 
the danger, the fatal danger to which men of More's 
temperament were exposed by Luther's heedless 
and unnecessary violence. They turned away in 
disgust from doctrines defended in such a style, 
in a temper so impatient and so arrogant." i On 
the actual point of doctrine, it is impossible to 
find admiration enough for the theological instinct 
of the controversialist. Stapleton, a brother of the 
craft, is a sure warranty : " ita ad verae theologiae 
nortnam loqui ut accuratius et aptius professione 
theologus vix loqui possit." ^ The tactics he usually 
adopted are extremely clever. While he never 
neglects to reply to particular attacks in detail, 
he constantly returns to the essential truth which 
ruins a priori the whole system of the heretics, the 
necessity of a living and infallible rule of faith. To 
Tyndale brandishing his Bible he opposes the " un- 
written verities " that are the source of the doctrinal 

' Letters and Papers, iii. ccccxxix. 

° Cap. iv. The vix saves the honour of the professional 
theologians or the elegance of the period, but it is quite probable 
that close study would reveal certain inaccuracies of detail in an 
entirely extemporaneous work of such length. 


and liturgical development of the Church. " If ye 
will believe whatsoever More can feign without the 
Scripture, then can this poet" (a damning charge 
in Tyndale's eyes) " feign you another Church 
than Christ's." ^ Thus Tyndale, but More clings 
no less firmly to the real book of the faith, written 
in the heart of the whole Catholic Church,^ the 
living Bible which preserves tradition and has its 
meaning fixed by the doctrinal authority of the 

There is consolation in the thought that some of 
the ministers of that Church, bishops and priests of 
England, wished to acknowledge by a public act of 
homage the services rendered to the cause of the 
faith by this layman. The Chancellor, after his 
disgrace, was not rich. The clergy clubbed together 
to present him with a sum of more than £4000. 
The Bishops of Durham, Bath, and Exeter were 
charged to make the presentation, and More him- 
self, in replying to those who accused him of having 
made money by his pen, has related the course of 
the interview. 

" I dare take God and the clergy to record that 
they could never fee me with one penny thereof; 
but as I plainly told them I would rather have cast 
their money into the Thames than take it. For 
albeit they were good men and honourable, yet look 
1 for my thanks of God that is their better, and for 
whose sake I take the labour and not for theirs. . . . 
I am both over proud and slothful also, to be hired 

' Tyndale, Parker Society, iii. 231. 
^ English Works, p. 488. 


for money to take half the labour and business in 
writing, that I have taken in this year since 1 
began." ^ " The bishops," adds, Roper, " thus de- 
parting, were fain to restore unto every man his 
own again." 

' B. i. 312 ; Apology, cap. x. 



I beseech your Grace, pardon me : I was born to speak all 
mirth and no matter {Much Ado about Nothing, II. i.). 

'pHOMAS MORE wrote a good deal. With 
*■ better inspiration than Erasmus, he was not 
content with the supple and living Latin which has 
won a European reputation for Utopia as great as 
that of the Encomium Moriae. He wished to make 
use of his native language also. The English prose 
of that date was still stammering like a child, and no 
master had yet arisen to rid it of its swaddling- 
clothes. For all that, it was there at hand, within 
reach of his pen, and a sure instinct told More that 
he might mould the infant language to all his human- 
istic elegancies, the caprices of his humour and his 
convictions as a Christian. While still all but a 
child he wrote A Merry Tale in very poor verse, and 
next some mottoes, also only second-rate, but con- 
taining here and there a note of the choice music 
which real poets were soon to immortalise. 

" Fast by her side doth weary Labour stand" — 

Spenser might have signed that line. In 1510, at 
the age of thirty-two, More translated into English 


the life of Pico della Mirandola. On reaching the 
end of the book he found the muse still plaguing 
him, and applied to the " love of God," in a series of 
pious verses, the " twelve rules of the perfect lover." 
In 1513 he began a life of Richard III., the first 
history ever written in English. Between 1516 and 
1520 came the principal Latin works. Utopia (1516), 
the open letters in support of Erasmus (1516, 1520), 
the letter to the University of Oxford on the study 
of Greek (1518), the Epigrams (1518), and the reply 
to Luther (1523). Meanwhile the friend of Erasmus 
had become a politician. He was now too busy, too 
much occupied with real life and the national life, not 
to give up the tongue of the humanists. Moreover, 
it was among the lower classes that the first Pro- 
testants poured their books of propaganda by thou- 
sands. More replied to them in English. Every 
new work found him ready with the counter-thrust : 
in 1528 he published the Dialogue; in 1529 he 
answered the Supplication for the Beggars with the 
Supplication of Souls in Purgatory ; in 1531 he con- 
futed Tyndale; in 1532, Frith. In the following 
year he published his Apology. Then he learned 
that in various quarters they were preparing to 
confute him. 

" Like as a husband," he wrote, " whose wife were 
in her travail, hearkeneth and would fain hear good 
tidings, so, since I so much heard of so sore travail 
of so many, I longed of their long labour to see some 
good speed and some of those fair babes born. And 
when these great hills had thus travailed long, from 
the week after Easter till as much before Michael- 


mas, the good hour came on as God would that one 
was brought a-bed with sore labour at last delivered 
of a dead mouse. The mother is yet but green, 
good soul, and hath need of good keeping." ^ The 
Mouse was a dialogue entitled Salem and Bysance. 
In less than a month More's answer was written 
and printed (1533); then he began another book on 
the Eucharist, but had not time to finish it. By 
great good fortune he had ink and pens in the 
Tower, and if the pens ran short, it was still possible 
to write with a coal. 

More was an author to the backbone; he wrote 
till the very end. But it is important to observe 
that, whether his Latin were grown rusty, or whether, 
with death so near at hand, he wished to avoid even 
the shadow of an artificial elegance, the fact remains 
that he forgot, or tried to forget, the Latin tongue 
he had mastered with such labour, and chose 
English as the vehicle for the work into which he 
put the most of himself, the Dialogue of Comfort 
against Tribulation, which comes very near to de- 
serving a place among the finest books of devotion. 
This dialogue brings to a close the stout blackletter 
quarto of fifteen hundred double-column pages which 
contains the English Works of Thomas More. The 
Opera latina fill as big a volume — a noble literary 
output for a man who was an author only in his 
spare moments and scarcely ever enjoyed any leisure 
until the months of imprisonment that preceded his 

He was an author, clearly enough, only in his 
' English Works, p. 930. 


spare moments, but he was an author in the full 
force of the word. An amateur of style and a 
literary epicure, he had so much taste for the craft 
that, independently of all other information, his 
books are the best means of penetrating deeper into 
his being. And for this reason no life of him would 
be complete without a literary study of Thomas 
More, the man of letters. 


Literary work, however excellent it may be in 
other respects, cannot fail to lack a certain higher 
perfection, unless it is undertaken and carried on 
with a natural delight. More always enjoyed 
writing, whether for duty or merely for his own 
pleasure ; and that is one of the reasons why on the 
most serious subjects, and neither in English nor 
even in Latin, does he ever become wearisome. The 
search for the right word, the picturesque epithet, 
the movement of thought that gathers precision and 
volume under the pen, the struggle with a phrase 
that is finally mastered, and the consciousness that 
it will go straight to the mark, the unexpected 
strokes of luck, all the evolution of a style that 
controls the author as much as he controls it, 
interested and attracted him ; and so perhaps still 
more did the uncertainty, the surprise, and the de- 
lightful defeat of the reader whom he was addressing 
and whom he had constantly before his mind. He 
never loses sight of the reader. Not that he worries 


him, like some writers who never give us breathing- 
space. He was both too cautious and too good- 
natured to be always pressing, but he has an eye on 
his readers all the time, follows his thoughts ill their 
eyes, guesses their hesitation and the first glimmer 
of a response, the disconcerting effect of some trap 
not discovered at once, the success of an anecdote 
or an epigram. The fascination of his books, like 
that of his portrait, lies in keeping us under the 
enigma of his smile. We cannot tell where he is 
in earnest and where he begins to jest. It is our 
business to find out. More himself is never so 
pleased as when we have guessed wrong and taken 
a joke or a flash of humour seriously. He would 
have been hugely delighted to know that a day would 
come when a poet and a fellow-countryman, William 
Morris, would discover in Utopia a gospel of socialism. 
The mistake would have struck him as so funny 
that he would have taken good care not to dispel it. 
He must have been charmed, too, when certain 
simple souls, seized with admiration and pity for the 
inhabitants of Utopia, talked of chartering a ship 
and sending out missionaries. 

" The true notion of Utopia is, however," writes 
Sir James Mackintosh, " that it intimates a variety of 
doctrines, and exhibits a multiplicity of projects 
which the writer regards with almost every possible 
degree of approbation and shade of assent, from 
the frontiers of serious and entire belief, through 
gradations of descending plausibility, where the 
lowest are scarcely more than the exercises of 
ingenuity, and to which some wild paradoxes are 


appended, either as vehicle, or as an easy means 
(if necessary) of disavowing the serious intention 
of the whole of this Platonic fiction." It is 
useless to add that all More's pleasure would 
have been spoiled if he had taken us into his 
confidence on the degree of seriousness he attached 
to each of his theories. In literature as in life he 
is always the man whose own wife, as Stapleton tells 
us, never knew serione autjoco aliquid diceret, whether 
he said a thing in jest or earnest.^ 

Like his book on the Undiscoverahle Isle, the Dia- 
logue of Comfort against Tribulation is a work of 
fiction. Two honest Hungarians, Antonio, an old 
man, and his nephew Vincent, are discussing the 
approaching invasion of the Turks, and arming 
themselves with tranquillity against the imminent 
catastrophe. We, who know the end of the story, 
feel a thrill every time the Grand Turk appears on 
the page. We know the tyrant's name. But More 
takes a special pleasure in the pathetic Equivoque; 
he smiles at his own idea and contents himself with 
adding in a quiet little parenthesis: "There is no 
born Turk so cruel to Christian folk as is the false 
Christian that falleth from the faith." 

Sometimes, even in the middle of the gravest 
controversy, the mystification goes further. 

" Since the time that Tindale hath begun his 
heresies and sent his erroneous books about, calling 
every Christian woman a priest, there is not now in 
some places of England the simplest woman in the 
parish, but that she doth, and that not in corners 
' Stapleton, cap. xiii. 


secretly, but look on who will, in open face of 
the world, in her own parish church, I say not 
hear but say her own self, and (lest you should look 
for some riddle) openly revested at the high altar, 
she saith (I say) herself and singeth too (if it be true 
that I hear reported) as many Masses in one week, 
as Tindale himself either saith or heareth in two 
whole years together." ^ 

He is joking ; he wants to give us a reductio ad 
absurdum of the heretical theories, and remind us 
that Tyndale never set foot in a church. But, mean- 
while, if any worthy soul believes that in some places 
the villagers go in dozens robed in chasubles to sing 
iVIass, the joke is fair, and More is not the man to 
despise it. 

In a delightful chapter of his greatest spiritual 
work, he is caught in the act of giving way to his 
weakness for freaks of the imagination. It might 
have been written by La Fontaine, or, still better, 
by the author of the Lettres de mon Moulin, with just 
this difference, that, like a thorough Englishman 
and a grown-up child who sticks close to his story. 
More has not the courage — indeed, it never occurs 
to him— to be brief. He has just been speaking of 
scruples, a moral disease which his own clear con- 
science never caught, but the deplorable effects of 
which he had studied now and then in other people, 
particularly in his son-in-law, Roper. He wants to 
show that in the main it is better to be too sensitive 
than not sensitive enough ; and it must be remem- 
bered that, throughout the conversation, the Turkish 
■ B. ii. 230, 


force is menacing the Christian outposts, and that 
Cromwell is drawing up a new formula of faith. 

" iVIy mother had, when I was a little boy, a good 
old woman that took heed to her children; they 
called her Mother Maud. . . . She was wont, when 
she sat by the fire with us, to tell us that were 
children many childish tales. I remember one that 
among others of her fond tales she told us once, 
that the ass and the wolf came on a time to con- 
fession to the fox. The poor ass came to shrift in 
the Shrovetide . . . and had a marvellous grudge in 
his inward conscience, that he had one day given 
his master a cause of anger, in that, that with his 
rude roaring before his master arose, he had 
awakened him out of his sleep and bereaved him 
out of his rest. The fox for that fault, like a good 
discreet confessor, charged him to do so no more, 
but lie still and sleep like a good son himself, till his 
master were up. . . . 

" To tell you all the poor ass's confession, it were a 
long work, for everything that he did was deadly sin 
with him, the poor soul was so scrupulous. But his 
wise wily confessor accounted them for trifles as 
they were, and sware afterward unto the badger 
that he was so weary to sit so long and hear him, 
that saving for the manners' sake, he had liever 
have sitten all the while at breakfast with a good 
fat goose. But when it came to the penance giving, 
the fox found that the most weighty sin in all his 
shrift was gluttony, and therefore he discreetly gave 
him in penance that he should never for greediness 
of his own meat do any other beast any harm or 


hindrance, and then eat his meat and study for no 

" Now, as good Mother Maud told us, when the 
wolf came to confession to good Father Reynard . . . 
upon Good Friday, his confessor shook his great 
pair of beads upon him almost as big as bowls, and 
asked him wherefore he came so late. ' Forsooth, 
Father Reynard,' quoth he, ' I must needs tell you 
the truth : I come (you wot well) therefor, I durst 
come no sooner, for fear lest you would for any 
gluttony have given me in penance to fast some part 
of this Lent.' ' Nay, nay,' quoth Father Fox, ' I am 
not so unreasonable : for I fast none of it myself. 
For I may say to thee, son, between us twain here 
in confession, it is no commandment of God this 
fasting, but an invention of man. . . . For I eat 
flesh all this Lent, myself. Howbeit, indeed, 
because I will not be occasion of slander, I there- 
fore eat it secretly in my chamber, out of sight of 
all such foolish brethren as for their weak scrupulous 
conscience would wax oifended withal, and so would 
I counsel you to do.' 

" But when he heard after by his confession that 
he was so great a ravener, . . . then he prudently 
reproved that point in him. 'But,' said he, 'you 
have used it so long that I think you can do no 
other. . . . For live you must, I wot well, and other 
craft can you none. . . . But yet, you wot well, too 
much is too much, and measure is a merry mean. . . . 
And therefore, surely, this shall be your penance : 
that you shall all this year now pass upon yourself 
the price of sixpence at a meal.' . , , 


" Their shrift have I showed you, as Mother Maud 
showed it us. But now serveth for our matter the 
conscience of them both, in the true performing of 
their penance. The poor ass after his shrift, 
when he waxed a hungered, saw a sow lie with her 
pigs well lapped in new straw, and near he drew and 
thought to have eaten of the straw. But anon his 
scrupulous conscience began therein to grudge him. 
For while his penance was, that for greediness of 
his meat he should do none other body harm, he 
thought he might not eat one straw thereof, lest for 
lack of that straw some of those pigs might hap to 
die for cold. So held he still his hunger till one 
brought him meat. But when he should fall thereto, 
then fell he yet in a far further scruple. . . . For 
he thought that if he eat not that meat, some 
other beast might hap to have it, and so should he 
by the eating of it peradventure hinder another. 
And thus stood he still fasting, till when he told the 
cause, his ghostly father came and informed him 
better, and then he cast ofF that scruple, and fell 
mannerly to his meat, and was a right honest ass 
many a fair day after." 

As to the wolf, he was limited to sixpence, but 
how much could be had for the money was 
left entirely to his own conscience. " Yonder dead 
horse ... in my conscience I set him far above 
sixpence, and, therefore, I dare not meddle with 
him. . . . But kine this country here hath enough, 
but money have they very little ; and therefore . . . 
yonder cow seemeth to me in my conscience worth 
not past a groat, an she be worth so much. Now 


then, as for her calf, is not so much as she by 
half . . . and so pass they not sixpence between 
them both." And so More takes leave reluctantly 
of the wolf and the ass, to tack on to his long 
story a short moral on the dangers of a scrupulous 


The surprising tl-.:'--:; is that this newly bom 
English of his already sounds like a formed lan- 
guage. Now for the first time, breaking free at 
last from archaism, there appears in the world this 
rich mixture of Saxon and Latin, the English of 
Milton, of Addison, of Burke and Newman. The 
poorest scholar can understand these works with 
perfect ease to-day. A less consummate artist than 
Montaigne, and therefore not so constantly superior 
to the novices working for the same end all about 
him. More is nevertheless fully conscious of the 
nobility of his task, and sometimes he all but reaches 
the perfection of the greatest of those who were to 
come after. Tyndale had been guilty of mixing his 
metaphors, and this is how he handles him : " And 
this thing, though it be no great matter, yet I 
have thought good to give Tyndale warning of, 
because I would have him write true one way or 
other, that, though I cannot make him by no means 
to write true matter, I would have him yet at the 
leastwise write true English," ^ 

' Dialogue of Comfort. ' B. i. xvii. 



He himself was already successfully working the 
inmost secret of English prose, the use of the par- 
ticles which mould the verbs to new meanings, and 
so attain at once to precision and richness with a 
subtlety that defies translation. 

" St John the Baptist was, ye wot well, in prison, 
while Herod and Herodias sat full merry at the feast, 
and the daughter of Herodias delighted them with 
her dancing, till with her dancing she danced off 
St John's head." i 

We find the same mastery in his management 
of adjectives — of course in the English manner. 
Whether, in France, our emotions are less vivid, 
or whether we are subject to an imperious need of 
analysis, the fact remains that we are not privileged 
to diaper our style with whole series of epithets 
connected by no conjunction. We cannot say, like 
More, that God, in order to bring back a coquette 
to His service, sent her "a goodly fair fervent 
fever " ; and it is a pity, perhaps, that we are 
unable to pray the Divine Wisdom to lead our 
enemies, and ourselves with them, back to better 
thoughts " by such easy tender merciful means " as 
are better known to that Wisdom than to us.^ 

Thanks to the gentleness of style which we noted 
just now, More's phraseology is usually extended 
and ample, and is apt to drag a little ; but it is never 
weighed down by solemnity. His prose is as copious 
as a written conversation ; but as soon as the point 
of an epigram or the crispness of discussion demand 
it, it becomes suddenly condensed, and gives the 
1 B. ii. 80. « B. ii. 97. 


impression of mingled fulness and finality which is 
the mark of a master. 

Without any apparent effort, it takes on the 
finest and most subtle shades in proportion as it 
has to express the untranslatable ; and I have noted, 
among others, a remarkable passage in which, wish- 
ing to show how exact and genuine the theology 
of simple believers can be, he speaks very hap- 
pily of all that the ignorant may imply without 
expressing in their prayers, and of the depths for 
which there is no formula but a reverent, devout 
silence : " though not express, yet imply, and under 
a reverent, devout silence signify." i But criticism 
of this kind may take us too far and make us forget 
the master-quality of Sir Thomas More's writings, 
the supreme gift never granted to the most skilful 


That gift is his humottr, his spirit, his life. Re- 
served, gentle, and calm, with a hatred of all display, 
a perfect courtier who would have enjoyed less 
favour and kept fewer friends, but for the natural 

^ B. ii. 31. The rhythm, which is still rather Latin, or French, 
is also very interesting. Note the scansion of this delightful 
passage: "All which holy things, right many persons, very little 
learned, but yet in grace godly minded, with heart humble and 
religious, not arrogant, proud and curious, under the name of 
holy Housel with inward heavenly comfort, do full devoutly rever- 
ence." Four lines without a pronoun ; the movement is at once 
pious and decided, and the close perfect. 


benevolence that led him to listen and to go on 
listening even after his curiosity was satisfied, he 
was still intensely alive in mind, imagination, and 
heart. Under the peaceable irony of the surface 
circulated incessant activity, observation of all 
things and all men that met his eyes, the sudden 
revivification of old ideas by new images, and the 
spontaneous influx of untainted emotion, the swift 
rallying of all experience and all the forces of the soul 
round the subject that occupied him for the moment, 
the constant and supple exercise of a nature that 
was proof against all fever, that possessed itself by 
lavish giving of itself, and was on the watch for every 
new opportunity. His adversaries would do wisely 
to be careful what pleas they lodged, for More is 
matchless at seizing a chance. The obscure monk i 
who wrote to him attacking Erasmus, closed his 
letter with a promise that he would look favourably 
on the great humanist if he would but yet correct 
his blunders. " Papae ! beasti hominem," cries More, 
"who indeed would have been in woful despair, if 
there had been no hope of his ever propitiating the 
favour of so great a man as you." ^ 

Tyndale was rash enough to say that he could 
discern the Scriptures without the Church's help, as 
young eagles, when they leave the nest, swoop on 
their prey. More takes care not to let the corn- 
pat i son drop. 

" He proveth his point by the ensample of a very 

^ More wished the name of this monk to remain unknown, and 
carefully kept it out of the letter he wrote, — ^Jortin, iii. p. 392. 
"Jortin, iii. p. 393. 


goodly bird and king of all fowls, the pleasant 
splayed eagle. For since that such a bird can spy 
his prey untaught ... it must needs iollow, perdie / 
that Tyndale and Luther in likewise, and Huskin 
and Zuinglius and other and excellent heretics, being 
in God's favour as far above all the Catholic Church 
as an eagle, the rich royal king of all birds, is above 
a poor puny chicken, must needs, without any learn- 
ing of any man, be taught to know the true Scrip- 
ture, being their prey to spoil and kill and devour it 
as they list. . . . 

" But now ye see well, good readers, by this reason, 
that St Austin, in respect of these noble eagles that 
spy their prey without the means of the Church, 
was but a silly poor chicken. . . . But one thing is 
there that I cease not to marvel of, since God in- 
spireth Tyndal and such other eagles, and thereby 
maketh them spy their prey themselves, how could 
it happen that the goodly golden old eagle, Martin 
Luther himself, in whose goodly golden nest the young 
eagle-bird was hatched, lacked that inspiration ! . . . 

" Howbeit I wis when our young eagle Tyndale 
learned to spy this prey first, he was not yet full- 
feathered, but scantily come out of the shell, not so 
high flickered in the air above all our heads . . . but 
was content to come down here and walk on the 
ground among other poor fowls, the poor children of 
his mother, of whom, when he hath all said, he 
learned to know this prey." ^ 

A word, you see, is enough to set him off ; and if 
the cat seems to play with the mouse a thought too 
' B. ii. 231, 232; English Works, p. 684. 


long, note how, even while having his fun, the writer 
is not marking time on one spot, and how the dis- 
cussion is actually advanced by the pleasantry. 

He tingles with life ; and images, arguments, 
authorities, everything sets him in motion as soon 
as it crosses his thought. 

" Yet have I another ancient sad father also, one 
that they call Origen. And when I desired him to 
come and bear witness with me in this matter, he 
seemed at the first very well content. But when 
I told him that he should meet with Tyndale, he 
blessed himself and shrank back, and said he had 
liever go some other way many a mile than once 
meddle with him. ' For I shall tell you, sir,' quoth 
he, 'before this time a right honourable man, very 
cunning and yet more virtuous, the good Bishop of 
Rochester, in a great audience, brought me in for a 
witness against Luther even in this same matter 
about the time of Tyndale's evil translated Testament. 
But Tyndale, as soon as he heard of my name, with- 
out any respect of honesty fell in a rage with me, 
and all too rated me, and called me stark heretic, 
and that the starkest that ever was.' This tale 
Origen told me, and swore by St Simkin that he 
was never so said unto of such a lewd fellow since 
he was first born of his mother. Pie, for shame I he 
should have favoured and forborne him somewhat, 
an it had been but for his age. For Origen is now 
thirteen hundred years old or thereabouts." ^ 

In his writings, too, everything has the power of 

' B. ii. 193 ; English Works, p. 410. 


" Oh I Cousin Vincent, if the whole world were 
animated with a reasonable soul (as Plato had 
weened it were) and that it had wit and understand- 
ing, to mark and perceive all things, Lord God, how 
the ground on which a prince buildeth his palace 
would loud laugh his lord to scorn, when he saw him 
proud of his possession, and heard him boast himself 
that he and his blood are for ever the very lords and 
owners of the land. For then would the ground 
think the while in himself : Ah ! thou sealy poor soul, 
that weenest thou were half a God, and art amid thy 
glory but a man in a gay gown, I that am the ground 
here over whom thou art so proud, have had an 
hundred such owners of me as thoti callest thyself, 
more than ever thou hast heard the names of. And 
some of them that proudly went over mine head, lie 
now low in my belly, and my side lieth over them. 
And many one shall as thou doest now, call himself 
mine owner after thee, that neither shall be sib to 
thy blood, nor any word hear of thy name. Who 
owned your castle. Cousin, three thousand years 

That is the reason why, even in the books which 
are not deliberately cast in the form of a long 
dialogue, he often enters on an imaginary conversa- 
tion, seldom resisting the little drolleries which that 
form of writing makes room for more easily than any 
other, but quickly bringing these amusing digressions 
back into the line of the debate. 

" And verily, were all the bishops of my mind (as 
I know some that be) ye should not of priests have 
English Works, p. 12 19, 


the plenty that ye have. . , . But were I Pope . . . 
By my soul, quoth he, I would ye were and my lady 
your wife Popess too. Well, quoth I, then should 
she devise for nuns. And as for me touching the 
choice of priests, I could not well devise better 
provisions than are by the laws of the Church 
provided already." i 

Wit with us takes the form of a series of sparks, 
none of which, if isolated and put under glass, would 
have any meaning. English jesting is made of units 
of greater resisting power. In that grey land a good 
repartee is cultivated, selected, like a rare tulip. No 
sooner does it bloom than news of it is sent round, 
it is passed from hand to hand, until, somewhat 
embellished on the way, it is gathered by a writer. 
On that score too. Sir Thomas More is one of the 
earliest representatives of the national wit. Father 
Bridgett has collected into a single chapter the 
flower of the " Fancies, Sports, and Merry Tales," 
which Blessed Thomas More so sweetly excused 
himself for having scattered about his books. 

" And one that is but a layman," he wrote, " as I 
am, it may better haply become him merrily to tell 
his mind, than seriously and solemnly to preach. 
And over this, I can scant believe that the brethren 
find any mirth in my books, for I have not much 
heard that they very merrily read them." ^ 

A bon mot is untranslatable, but a " merry tale " 
can be thrown into a foreign tongue without losing 
all its flavour. And More's works are full of merry 

' English Works, pp. 227, 228. 

^ B. ii. 183 ; English Works, p. 927. 


tales. Charming examples are to be found even in 
his long Latin letters. Writing to Dorpius in defence 
of Erasmus, he crosses on his way the path of the 
pseudo-theologians who threw scorn on the study of 
the Fathers. 

" It happened to me often that I met a man of 
that opinion in a bookseller's shop. He was an old 
man, with one foot in the grave, as we say, and the 
other to follow it very soon. ... I happened to say 
before him that St Augustine believed that for a 
certain time the devils had bodies. Whereupon he 
frowned and turning on me as black as thunder, 
reproached me for my temerity. . . . ' Think you, 
indeed, I have never read Augustine ? I have — and 
before you were born . . . ! ' " 

" There was a copy of the De Divinatione De- 
monuni in the shop. I found the passage and 
showed it him. He read and re-read it, and at the 
third time of reading beginning, not without my help, 
to understand it, he cried in amazement : ' Verily, I 
am much surprised that Augustine should so write 
in this passage ; for he certainly does not say so 
in the Magister Sententiarum, qui est liber magis 
inagistralis quam iste." ^ 

A certain Richard Hunn, accused of heresy, had 
been found dead in prison. The official inquiry gave 
a verdict of suicide, but it was to the interest of the 
innovators to circulate another version. More had 
taken no part in the affair, but he refers to it on 
several occasions in his controversial works, and 
thereby gives us the benefit of several most spirited 
1 Ad Dorp. 31, B.C.D. 


stories, which obviously enshrine his own judicial 
recollections. " The greatest temporal lord there 
present said unto a certain servant of his own stand- 
ing there : ' Ye told me that one showed you that he 
could go take him by the sleeve that killed Hunn. 
Have ye brought him hither ? ' ' Sir,' quoth he, ' if 
it like your lordship, this man it was that told 
me so,' pointing to one that he had caused to come 
thither. Then my lord asked that man : ' How say 
ye, sir ? can ye do as ye said ye could ? ' ' For- 
sooth, my lord,' quoth he, ' an it like your lordship, I 
said not so much; this gentleman did somewhat 
mistake me. But indeed I told him I had a neighbour 
that told me that he could do it.' " 

But it then turned out to be the neighbour's 
neighbour. At last they came to a man who " said 
indeed that he knew one which he thought verily 
could tell who killed him." 

" ' Well,' quoth the lords at the last, ' with much 
work we come to somewhat. But whereby think you 
that he can tell ? ' ' Nay, forsooth, my lord,' quoth he, 
' it is a woman. I would she were here with your 
lordships now.' ' Well,' quoth my lord, ' woman or 
man, all is one ; she shall be had wheresoever she be.' 
' By my faith, my lords,' quoth he, ' an she were with 
you she would tell you wonders, for by God . . . 
if a thing had been stolen she would have told who 
had it. I think she could as well tell who killed 
Hunn as who stole a horse.' . . . ' But how could she 
tell it, by the Devil ? ' ' Nay by my troth I trow not,' 
quoth he, ' for I could never see her use any worse 
way than looking in one's hand.' Therewith the 


lords laughed and asked : ' What is she ? ' ' For- 
sooth, my lords,' quoth he, ' an Egyptian, and she 
was lodged here at Lambeth, but she is gone oversea 
now. Howbeit I trow she be not in her own country 
yet, for they say it is a great way hence, and she 
went over little more than a month ago.' " ^ 

Then came another witness who declared that 
Hunn could not have hanged himself. It only 
needed a little experience to see that his corpse did 
not look like that of a man who had hanged himself. 

" ' I have occupied a great while under divers of the 
King's almoners, and have . . . seen so many by 
reason of mine office.' ' Why,' quoth another lord 
merrily, ' your office had no more experience in 
hanging than hath a hangman. And yet he cannot 
tell.' ' Nay, sir,' quoth he, ' an it like your lordship, 
he meddleth not with them that hang themselves as 
I do.' ' Well,' quoth one of the lords, ' how many of 
them have ye meddled with in your days ? ' ' With 
many, my lord,' quoth he, ' for I have been officer 
under two almoners, and therefore I have seen 
many ? ' ' Now how many ? ' quoth one of the lords. 
• I cannot tell,' quoth he, ' how many, but I wot well 
I have seen many.' ' Have ye seen,' quoth one, ' a 
hundred ? ' ' Nay,' quoth he, ' not a hundred.' 
' Have ye seen fourscore and ten ? ' Thereat a little 
he studied as one standing in doubt and that were 
loath to lie, and at last he said, that he thought nay 
not fully fourscore and ten. Then was he asked 
whether he had seen twenty, and thereat without 
any sticking he answered : ' Nay, not twenty.' 
' English Works, p. 236. 


Thereat the lords laughed well to see that he was so 
sure that he had not seen twenty, and was in doubt 
whether he had seen fourscore and ten. Then was 
he asked whether he had seen fifteen ; and thereat 
he said shortly; ' Nay.' And in likewise of ten. 
At the last they came to five, and from five to four. 
And there he began to study again. Then came 
they to three, and then for shame he was fain to say 
that he had seen so many and more too. But when 
he was asked, when, whcJm, and in what place, 
necessity drove him at last unto the truth, whereby 
it appeared that he had never seen but one in all his 
life." 1 

These lively stories are, in a manner, confidences. 
The collector of medals and lover of strange animals 
was interested, above all things, in humanity, a 
never wearied, constantly amused spectator of the 
universal comedy. As barrister, judge, courtier, 
and minister, he was, no doubt, always in the front 
seats, but no one knew better how to look on, and 
no one was more interested in the play. We need 
hardly add that in his case his observation was never 
scornful, and that his keen sense of the ridiculous 
was tempered by benevolence and pity. 

Moreover, his way of enlivening an abstract dis- 
cussion is no mere trick of style. More's use of it 
shows great tactical wisdom, combined with obedience 
to the most characteristic tendency of the English 

The controversialists of his day, Henry VIII., the 
dull and dry, Fisher, already far more remarkable, 
English Works, p. 237. 


and Tyndale himself, by no means to be despised as 
a writer, all remained faithful on the whole to the 
impersonal dialectic of the Schools. More, coming 
late into the field, had read the Schoolmen thoroughly, 
and invariably goes to them for matters of doctrine. 
But in the detail of his thought and the management 
of the debate, we find at every step the intrusion and 
the triumph of a concrete intellect, composed of 
plain common-sense, a preoccupation with morality, 
and the constant reduction of everything to the 
tangible and the real. He does not always reply to 
Tyndale's arguments, and yet he constantly opposes 
right reason to the reasoning of the man who had 
the imprudence to drive the people to verify the 
foundations of all belief for themselves. To cling to 
the abstract and consult the methods of religious 
philosophy at certain moments and before a certain 
public would be to throw dogma to the spoiler. 
More saw the danger instinctively, and without 
going back on its past, the liberal spirit that dreamed 
the dream of Utopia becomes the most pronounced 
conservative in the face of the heretics. He defends 
the threatened positions en bloc, and by concrete 
arguments that no subtleties can make a breach in. 
Dialectic is not altogether absent, but it has left off 
its doctorial robes, and instead of opposing argument 
to argument and reasoning to reasoning, it appeals to 
the common-sense of the people ; it takes its stand 
on the implicit theology which centuries of religious 
life had instilled into the crowd ; it jokes, and instead 
of syllogisms it scatters a plenteous store of good 
things and good stories. 


" They that tell us that we shall be damned but if 
we believe right, and then tell us that we cannot 
know that but by the Scripture, and that the 
Scripture cannot be so learned but of a true teacher, 
and they tell us we cannot be sure of a true teacher, 
and so cannot be sure to understand it right, and yet 
say that God will damn us for understanding it 
wrong, or not understanding it at all ; they that 
thus tell us put me in mind of a tale that they tell 
of Master Henry Patenson " (More's fool), " a man 
of known wisdom in London and almost everywhere 
else. Which when he waited once on his master in 
the Emperor's court at Bruges, and was there soon 
perceived upon the sight for a man of special wit by 
himself, and unlike the common sort, they caught 
a sport in angering of him, and out of divers corners 
hurled at him such things as angered him and hurt 
him not. Thereupon he gathered up good stones, 
not gunstones but hard as they, and these he put 
apace into his bosom, and then stood him up upon a 
bench, and made a proclamation aloud that every man 
might hear him, in which he commanded every man 
upon their own perils to depart . . . but whosoever 
tarried after his proclamation made he would take 
him for one of the hurlers, or else for one of their 
counsellers, and then have at their heads. . . . 

" Now was his proclamation in English, and the 
company that heard him were such as understood 
none, but stood still and gaped upon him and laughed 
at him. And by-and-by one hurled at him again . . . 
and he hurled a great stone out at adventure among 
them, he neither wist nor sought at whom, but 


lighted upon a Burgundian's head and brake his 
pate, that the blood ran about his ears ; and master 
Henry bade him stand to his harms hardily, for 
why would he not beware then, and get him thence 
betime, when he gave him before so great courteous 
warning." 1 


Thus in many fields More brilliantly opens the 
way for the literature of his country. And further, 
it is his glory to have, so to speak, wedded to the 
thoughts of faith and the experience of the Christian 
life, this English prose, which is one of the noblest, 
strongest, and sweetest tongues ever found by the 
gospel for the interpretation of its message. 

Here again, as in the popular theology of his con- 
troversial books, we find no touch of novelty, nothing 
to remind us of the somewhat anxious searching 
and curiosity of Utopia, In writing against the 
innovators, he defends the truths of the catechism ; 
in his spiritual works he never goes far from the 
great commonplaces of Christian preaching, especi- 
ally the Last Things and the story of the Passion. 
As a religious writer, no less than as a humorist, a 
controversialist, or a teller of stories, he excels in 
his art and gives new life to all he touches ; but, his 
secret is exactly the same in each case. Sacred 
things are as vivid and as present with him as a 

' Confutation of Tyndale English Worhs, p. 767 ; B. ii. 
194. 195- 


nurse's tale or a judicial reminiscence; but with 
this difference, that his humour lay on the surface, 
while in the peaceful depths where it loved to medi- 
tate, his serene, grave soul was ever listening to the 
voice of God and holding herself ready to reply. 

" Give me Thy grace, good Lord," he wrote in 
prison, "... to make death no stranger to me " ; 
and the thought is linked, across all the years of his 
maturity, with the statement of the dear friend of 
his youth : " Cum amicis sic fabulatur de vita futuri 
saeculi ut agnoscas ilium ex animo loqui." 

" For, of truth, our very prison this earth is : 
and yet thereof we cant us out (partly by covenants 
that we make among us, and part by fraud, and 
part by violence too), divers parts diversely to 
ourself, and change the name thereof from the 
odious name of prison and call it our own land and 
livelihood. Upon our prison we build, our prison 
we garnish with gold, and make it glorious. In this 
prison they buy and sell, in this prison they brawl 
and chide, in this prison they run together and fight ; 
in this they dice, in this they card, in this they pipe 
and revel, in this they sing and dance. And in this 
prison many a man reputed right honest letteth not 
for his pleasure in the dark privily to play the 

"And thus while God the King, and our chief 
jailor too, suffereth us and letteth us alone, we ween 
ourself at liberty, and we abhor the state of those 
whom we call prisoners, taking ourselves for no 
prisoners at all."^ 

1 Bialogue of Comfort, English Works, p. 1245 ; B. ii. 78, 79. 


There are moments, it is true, when he dwells 
with strange eloquence on the horror of death, which 
he usually considered only as the beginning of life. 
More was not the man entirely to neglect the lessons 
of the great mistress of irony. In his meditation on 
the Four Last Things, he makes fun of the foolish 
people who leave directions in their wills for the 
ceremonial of their funerals. 

Steeped in the thought of the centuries of faith, a 
heritage which even in his most enthusiastic transports 
of humanism he never dreamed of repudiating, he too 
wrote his Triumph of Death, and magnificent it is. 

" We well know that there is no king so great, 
but that all the while he walketh here, walk he never 
so loose, ride he with never so strong an army for 
his defence, yet himself is very sure (though he seek 
in the mean season some other pastime to put it out 
of his mind) — yet is he very sure, I say, that scape 
he cannot ; and very well he knoweth that he hath 
already sentence given upon him to die, and that 
verily die he shall, and that himself (though he hope 
upon long respite of his execution), yet can he not 
tell how soon. And therefore, but if he be a fool, he 
can never be without fear, that either on the morrow, 
or on the selfsame day, the grisly, cruel hangman. 
Death, which from his first coming in hath ever 
hoved aloof, and looked toward him, and ever lain 
in await on him, shall amid all his royalty, and all 
his main strength, neither kneel before him, nor 
make him any reverence, nor with any good manner 
desire him to come forth ; but rigorously and fiercely 
gripe him by the very breast, and make all his 


bones rattle, and so by long and divers sore torments, 
strike him stark dead." ^ 

But, as a rule, in writing for himself or for other 
true Christians, More takes the thought of death 
more kindly. 

It is remarkable in a man whose meditations con- 
stantly came back to thoughts of this kind, that his 
spirituality is never overweighted by fear ; and here 
again we find the solution, not by any theoretical 
process, but by the humble confidence of a saint, of 
the antinomy that is such a stumbling-block to 
independent moralists. Neither the fear of hell nor 
the hope of heaven seemed to him incompatible with 
the loftiest sentiments. It was not St Teresa but 
a solid Englishman, a man of his times and the 
father of a family, who wrote this prayer : — 

" Give me, good Lord, a longing to be with 
Thee, not for the avoiding of the calamities of 
this wretched world ; nor so much for the avoiding 
of the pains of purgatory, nor of the pains of hell 
neither, nor so much for the attaining of the joys of 
heaven in respect of mine own commodity, as even 
for a very love to Thee." ^ 

Words fail me to express the effect of this gift 
of the love of God and of souls in softening the 
lively candour of his style, the penetrating and 
humane compassion with which the future martyr 
tells o'er the wounds of his crucified Saviour. 

"And give me, good Lord, an humble, lowly, 
quiet, peaceable, patient, charitable, kind, tender, 

^ Dialogue of Comfort, English Works, pp. 1243, 1244 ; B. ii. 72. 
^ English Works, p. 1418 ; B. ii, 96. 


and filial mind " — every shade, in fact, of charity — 
" with all my works, and all my words, and all my 
thoughts, to have a taste of Thy holy blessed 
Spirit." 1 

Indeed, I would almost undertake to show by 
strict comparison that the mellitissimus friend of 
Erasmus 2 was a forerunner, both in tone and 
doctrine, of St Francis de Sales. In spite of its 
English accent, Philotheus would not have hesitated 
long to acknowledge as his own this passage on 
Scrupulosity : — 

" Pusillanimity bringeth forth a very timorous 
daughter, a silly, wretched girl, and ever puling, 
that is called Scrupulosity, or a scrupulous con- 
science. This girl is a meetly good puzzle in a 
house, never idle, but ever occupied and busy ; one, 
albeit she have a very gentle mistress, that loveth 
her well, and is content with that she doth, or if it 
be not all well (as all cannot be well always), content 
to pardon her as she doth other of her fellows, and 
so letteth her know that she will ; yet can this 
peevish girl never cease whining and puling for fear 
lest her mistress oe always angry with her, and 
that she shall shrewdly be shent. Were her 
mistress, ween you, like to be content with 
this condition ? Nay, surely. I knew such one 
myself, whose mistress was a very wise woman, and 
(which thing is in women very rare) very mild and 
also meek, and liked very well such service as she 
did her in the house, but this continual discomfort- 
able fashion of hers she so much misliked, that she 
' B. ii. 95. ^ B. i. 121, note. 


would sometimes say : ' Eh I what aileth this girl ? 
Surely if she did me ten times better service than 
she doth, yet with this fantastical fear of hers I 
would be loath to have her in my house.' " ^ 

This chapter from the Dialogue upon Tribulation 
might stand quite naturally in the Introduction to a 
Devout Life; so too, among others, might that in 
which More explains how far it is permissible to lay 
aside the cross. 

" I think in very deed tribulation so good and 
profitable, that I should haply doubt wherefore a 
man might labour or pray to be delivered of it, 
saving that God, which teacheth us the one, teacheth 
us also the other. And as He biddeth us take our 
pain patiently, and exhort our neighbours to do also 
the same ; so biddeth He us also not to let to do our 
devoir to remove the pain from us both. And then 
when it is God that teacheth both, I shall not need 
to break my brain in devising wherefore He could 
bid us do both, the one seeming to resist the other. 
... If He send us the plague of pestilence, He will 
that we shall patiently take it, but yet will He that 
we let us blood, and lay plasters to draw it, and ripe 
it, and lame it, and get it away. . . . Now, can we 
not tell surely how much tribulation may mar it 
{i.e. the body), or peradventure hurt the soul also ? 
. . . And as He will that we do for ourselves, so will 
He that we do for neighbours too ; and that we shall 
in this world be each to other piteous, and not sine 
affectione, ... St John saith, he that loveth not 
his neighbour whom he seeth, loveth God but a little 

^ Dialogue ef Comfort, English Works, p. 1182; B. ii. 49. 


whom he seeth not ; so he that hath no pity on the 
pain that he seeth his neighbour feel afore him, 
pitieth little (whatsoever he say) the pain of his soul 
that he seeth not yet." ^ 

At that, with its strong note of St Francis de 
Sales, let us pause. More's latest biographer, IVIr 
W. H. Hutton, very justly recalls some of the great 
names in English religious literature. Hooker, 
Jeremy Taylor, and others, by whom Blessed 
Thomas More deserves a place. I have introduced 
the name of another writer, not with any idea of 
controversy, but simply for the exactness of the 
literary parallel. No one has more admiration than 
I for the melodious solemnity of the Anglican divines, 
the sombre and glowing faith of Bunyan, and those 
early sermons of Newman's, which mark an epoch 
in the inner life of .all who have read them. And 
yet there is a note lacking in all these works, a note 
which we find on every page of JWore ; a unique 
mixture of tenderness and reverence, of seriousness 
and freedom ; the childlike spirit that no solemnity 
can check and no Puritanism cloud ; the simple, 
smiling piety, the soul of youth of the religious 
England, at once sedate and serene, which was to 
pass with Sir Thomas More. 

^ Dialogue of Comfort, English Works, p. 1160; B. ii. 51-53. 



I forgat not in this matter the counsel of Christ in the gospel, 
that ere I should begin to build this castle for the safeguard of 
mine own soul, I should sit and reckon what the charge would be. 
I counted, Marget, full surely many a restless night, while my wife 
slept, and weened I had slept too, what peril were possible for to 
fall to me, so far forth that I am sure there can come none above. 
And in devising, daughter, thereupon, I had a full heavy heart. 
But yet I thank our Lord for all that, I never thought to change, 
though the very uttermost should hap me that my fear ran upon. 
(Sir Thomas More : from a letter written in prison either by 
Margaret Roper, or by More in his daughter's name. ) 

'"pHE present chapter is of all others essential to 
^ any attempt to represent the fine and delicate 
nature of Sir Thomas More in all its infinite shades. 
The martyr who showed himself so original in his 
attitude to death was certainly not less original 
during the course of the events which brought him 
by slow degrees to his tragic end. Bishop Fisher, 
as he went to execution, asked for his cloak : he did 
not wish to catch cold on the way. And so with 
More on that march to martyrdom which lasted for 
years. He measured every step he took, and 
counted them. Now and then he stopped and 
looked behind him, not in order to shun suffering, 
but to follow the inflexible and subtle delicacy of a 
conscience that desired at one and the same time to 


answer the first call of duty and reach the extremest 
point of legitimate concession. He was without 
illusion and equally without fear. He knew whither 
he was being led; and that death, long probable, 
finally certain, he accepted. But at the same time 
he was free from all passion, all haste. As politician, 
he set every wheel in motion to defer the fatal issue ; 
as advocate, he brought all his genius to bear on his 
own defence, just as he had been used to do for his 
clients. He knew no weak moments, either in wit 
or will ; our admiration follows him step by step 
without a throb of anguish ; and yet, proud and in- 
dependent in his obedience, he was never so sub- 
missive, so conciliating, as in his resistance. To 
find an analogous example of generosity in prudence, 
we must go, perhaps, to the conversion of Newman. 
In both men we find the same deliberation, the same 
constant refusal to hurry forvsfard, the same clear 
understanding of the complexity of the problems, 
and the same fear of influencing others with the 
contagion of a sacrifice which God alone has the 
right to demand. That is what makes these two 
rare souls stand out equally from the common men, 
who seldom move slowly without a suspicion of 
weakness and fear. In place of the broad, straight 
road along which we have come to imagine the 
heroes of duty marching with light heart, we find 
these two in sinuous paths, which each is compelled 
to clear for himself, and where two men cannot walk 
abreast. It were folly to ask which is the better 
way, the high road or the path : every way is good 
that leads to martyrdom. The essential thing is 


surrender to the inspirations of grace. We may be 
sure in advance of what the story of Sir Thomas 
More will show us anew, that this grace, in its 
divine multiplicity, is marvellously accommodated to 
the originality of each soul. 


Freeman used to be fond of quoting the discreet 
formula employed by a certain Oxford professor to 
sum up the second half of the reign of Henry VIII. : 
" The later years of this great monarch were clouded 
by domestic troubles." i That professor deserved 
a bishopric. We may thank God that contemporary 
Anglicanism has ceased to employ such euphemisms. 
There is no possibility, nowadays especially, of 
misreading the simple and lucid story. Henry wanted 
to be rid of his wife. Anne Boleyn was burning to 
put the crown on her pretty head. The Pope, 
urgently solicited, refused to sanction the double 
caprice ; the King replied by a proclamation of his 
own supremacy in religious matters and an edict 
commanding the clergy to recognise that the Bishop 
of Rome had no jurisdiction outside his own diocese 
— and it was all over for centuries with the unity of 
the Christian world.^ 

' Bryce, Studies in Contemporary Biography, p. 271, note. 

^ A writer who attempted lo maintain that the history of the first 
stages of the Reformation in England was not so simple, was answered 
decisively by Mr Gairdner, a portion of whose reply I may be per- 
mitted to quote : — " In Mr Hutton's view the divorce of Henry 
V III. had nothing essentially to do with the Reformation ! When 


The delightful part of this edifying story is that 
that very same King, during his controversy with 
the Lutherans, had loudly affirmed the universality 
of the pontifical jurisdiction. There was a certain 
member of the King's theological council who asked 
him then to moderate the vigour of his Ultramontane 
pronouncements, the same member who was soon to 
be the first to refuse his submission to Henry's 
schismatic caprices. A few months before his 
martyrdom, More related the incident with his usual 

" At the first reading whereof (i.e. the passage in 
the King's book which concerned the primacy of the 
Pope) I moved the King's Highness either to leave 
out that point or else to touch it more slenderly, for 
doubt of such things as after might hap to fall in 
question between his Highness and some Pope." 

His advice sprang from political considerations ; 

a gentleman of Mr Hutton's attainments is able seriously to tell us 
this, I think it is really time to ask people to put two and two 
together and say whether they find the sum can be anything 
whatever but four. It may be disagreeable to trace the Reforma- 
tion to such a very ignoble origin ; but facts, as the Scottish 
poet says, are fellows that you can't coerce." The whole letter 
should be read. It appeared in the Guardian of March I, 1899, 
and is reprinted, with another letter of Mr Gairdner's on the same 
subject, in the Tablet of March 4, 1899. I am far from 
questioning the necessity of a reform, and I even think that the 
author of The Eve of the Reformation might have conceded a 
little more on this point. But schism is neither the sole nor the 
best path to reform. It would, moreover, be as puerile as unjust 
to see nothing in the history of Anglicanism but this sad story of 
its conception, and forget all that Manning himself called "The 
workings of the Holy Ghost in the Church of England." 


but at the moment More had stronger reasons 
for maintaining a discreet reserve on this 

"Truth it is ... I was myself sometime not of 
the mind that the primacy of that See should Be 
begun by the institution by God." 

The King's book gave him occasion to study the 
question more closely, and after ten years' research 
into the Fathers and the Councils he had reached 
the conclusion that " his conscience were ... in 
right great peril, if I should follow the other side, 
and deny the primacy to be provided by God." But 
it appears that though this truth was fixed in his 
mind thenceforth, More had never held it for an 
article of faith. The great schism had unsettled all 
his ideas on the subject, and the young critic had 
proposed queries that were still unanswered. " The 
(spiritual) monarchy of the Pope," said Erasmus, 
" I have never doubted, but I put out the question 
somewhere whether the monarchy was either claimed 
or acknowledged in the time of Jerome." Tunstall, 
who was highly esteemed by More for his virtue and 
knowledge, openly proposed the theories of modern 
Anglicanism. Fisher, no doubt, was already a staunch 
Roman, but it was quite natural that a theologian 
by circumstance, and self-taught, like More, should 
have taken some time to make up his mind between 
the two schools, and that, once his choice was made, 
and made rightly, he should hesitate to pronounce 
on the point too insistently. Moreover, he did not 
carry all the consequences of the theological thesis 
to their practical conclusion. 


" And verily," he wrote, " since the King's Highness 
hath . . . appealed to the General Council from the 
Pope . . . methinketh ... it could be no furtherance 
there unto His Grace's cause if his Highness should 
. . . seem to derogate and deny, not only the primacy 
of the See Apostolic, but also the authority of the 
General Councils too. . . . For in the next General 
Council it may well happen, that this Pope may be 
deposed and another substituted in his room, with 
whom the King's Highness may be very well content. 
For albeit that I have for my own part such opinion 
of the Pope's primacy as I have showed you, yet 
never thought I the Pope above the General Council, 
nor never have I in any book of mine, put forth 
among the King's subjects in our vulgar tongue, 
advanced greatly the Pope's authority. For albeit 
that a man may peradventure so find therein that, 
after the common manner of all Christian realms, I 
speak of him as primate, yet never do I stick thereon 
with reasoning and proving of that point. And in 
my book against the Masker I wrote not, I wot well, 
five lines, and yet of no more but only St Peter 
, himself, from whose person many take not the 
primacy, even of those that grant it none of his 
successors. But whereas I had written thereof at 
length in my Confutation before, and for the proof 
thereof had compiled together all that I could 
find therefor, at such time as I little looked 
that there should fall between the King's High- 
ness and the Pope, such a breach as is fallen 
since; when I after that saw the thing likely to 
draw towards such displeasure between them I 


suppressed it utterly, and never put word thereof 
in my book." i 

These statements, written on the eve of More's 
trial, are of the utmost importance, not only because 
they show a reserve characteristic of a theologian 
and worthy of Newman himself, but mainly because 
they give a precise definition of the cause for which 
this great man was willing to die. When, a few 
months later, he gave his life as the price of his 
refusal to question the sovereignty of the Pope, he 
did so, not because he regarded it as a dogma of 
faith imposed upon all, but solely because he held it 
to be true. He never broaches the question for 
others ; he makes no attempt to gain their adhesion, 
not even his own daughter's, to what he holds to be 
a free opinion ; it is merely this, that his own re- 
searches having convinced him personally of the 
primacy of the Roman pontiff, he recognises no 
right to speak on the matter otherwise than as he 
thinks. The close of this long letter to Cromwell 
leaves no doubt that this was Sir Thomas More's 
attitude ; and to transcribe it in all its heroic 
simplicity, is to gain, I think, the right to remind 
the world once more that our martyrs are also the 
witnesses and the champions of " liberty of thought." 

" Nor yet in any other thing else, never was there, 
nor never there shall be any further fault found in 

' All the extracts quoted above on the primacy are taken from 
the long letter More wrote to Cromwell in his defence. The 
letter may be found in the English Works (pp. 1424 et seq.), but is 
better consulted in the Life by Father Bridgett, who has collated 
it with the original MS. The remarks accompanying the extracts 
are a faithful risumi of Father Bridgett, B. i. pp. 343-348. 


me, than that I cannot in everything think the same 
way that some other men of more wisdom and 
deeper learning do; nor can find in mine heart 
otherwise to say than as mine own conscience giveth 
me." 1 

When, therefore, we find him defending himself 
and rebutting one by one the charges under which 
his enemies were trying to crush him, we must not 
conclude that he is merely endeavouring to escape 
death, but that, simply from a sense of justice, a 
scruple of loyalty, and a supreme respect for the 
finest shades of truth, he wishes to define exactly 
the real cause of his martyrdom : " I cannot in 
everything think the same way that some other 
men . . . nor can find in mine heart otherwise to 
say than as mine own conscience giveth me." 


Henry VIII., then, had neglected the advice of his 
counsellor, and published his apology for the papal 
supremacy without revision. iVIeanwhile he was 
attacked by other doubts, which set the official 
casuists to work. Had not the Pope exceeded 
his powers in authorising the king's marriage with 
Catherine, the widow of Henry VII. 's eldest son? 
It was not till September 1527 that the king 
acquainted iWore with the belated tremors of his 
conscience. Straight to his face one day when they 
were both walking in the gallery at Hampton Court, 
^ English Works, p. 1428. 


his Highness informed him that the marriage was so 
contrary to divine law " that it could in nowise by 
the church be dispensable." There was a Bible "in 
the room. Henry opened it. He read aloud the 
specific texts from Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and 
asked if it were possible, after that, not to recognise 
that the divorce was inevitable. More bore the 
shock with no excess of emotion. His own eyes, 
or at any rate the gossip of the Court, had revealed 
to him the more pressing dangers that threatened 
the king's soul, and had it not been for the thought 
of the unhappy queen, he would have found the first 
act of the drama amusing enough. His calm was 
not taken in ill part, and he was made to attend 
learned controversies at which the question was 
discussed by a great concourse of theologians. The 
trial of the case was opened at the Court of Rome. 
More obeyed the king by acquainting himself with 
what was argued on both sides ; and then, finding 
it impossible to share the opinions of the Court 
theologians, he declined to hear the controversy 

" Settling my mind in quiet," he wrote, " to serve 
his Grace in other things, I would not so much as look 
nor let lie by me any book of the tother part . . . 
nor never gave ear to the Pope's proceeding in 
the matter."! 

' English Works, p. 1426. His attitude relieves me of the 
need of studying the very difficult question of the divorce in itself. 
Whatever Henry VIH.'s intentions may have been, the canonical 
problem itself was very complicated, and it is known that the 
legate Campeggio long inclined towards a solution agreeing with 
the king's wishes. 


Meanwhile Wolsey had fallen from power, found 
guilty of not carrying the Pope's assent by storm. 
It really looks as if the appointment of More to 
succeed him was a last attempt on Henry's part to 
win over to the divorce the man who was then the 
most considerable person in England. Henry did 
not suspect, even after fifteen years of intimacy, the 
reserves of indomitable firmness hidden beneath that 
facile, kindly, and liberal nature.^ He was careful 
not to reveal to his new Chancellor the plans of 
vengeance which his pride, wounded by the Pope's 
decision, was already concocting ; he even gave him 
an assurance that the whole matter should remain 
where it was. Both parties were soon to be better 
acquainted with each other, and, if More had some 
few moments of hope, they were brief. Moreover, 
his new situation showed him no motive for abandon- 
ing his former tactics. So long as he was not re- 
quired to act for himself or speak in his own name, 
he pursued his way outside the detestable intrigue, 
neither saying nor doing anything that could be 
construed into approval of the king's conduct. The 
desertion of Catherine and the filling of her place by 
Anne Boleyn were matters of the king's conscience, 
and More, having once clearly stated his opinion, 
thought that for the moment he need only protest 
by his silence. A citizen of a modern state who 
found himself in similar circumstances, would have 
the right to " submit his resignation." The right 
was not so clear in the monarchy of those days; 
and as to the duty, whatever may be the abstract 
' Dixon, History of the Church of England, i. pp. 9, lo. 


solution of the very diiBcult case, Sir Ttiomas More 
did what he thought best. We may trust him for 
that. ' 

The situation, moreover, was consistently equi- 
vocal. Officially the only question remained the 
resolution of the king's scruples. More himself, a 
few months after his appointment, was called upon 
to remind the public that this was the comedy still 
on the stage. The Chancellor of England brings 
the royal commissions to Parliament ; and it was in 
the capacity of the simple bearer of a message that 
he opened the session of March 15, 1531. The 
Imperial ambassador, Chapuys, in a letter to Charles 
v., says that " the Chancellor declared to the lords 
in Parliament, by command of the king, that there 
were some who had said that the king was pursuing 
the divorce out of love for some lady, and not out 
of scruples of conscience, and that this was not 
true. Hereupon some asked the Chancellor for his 
opinion ; on which he said that he had many times 
already declared it to the king, and said no more. 
The Chancellor then went down to the Commons, 
and made the same declaration on the part of the 
king." 1 

Some days before, on February 11, 1531, the 
clergy had been ordered to recognise the king as the 
" Supreme Head of the Anglican Church." 

Father Bridgett has firmly established the fact 

that this ambiguous title might still be compatible 

with the supremacy of the Holy See. Moi'eover, 

the dying independence of the bishops had accom- 

1 Letters and Papers^ v. 171 ; B. i. 233, 234. 


panied the decree by an amendment which reduced 
it to a cipher.i The measure was none the less 
grave, and, as it were, a rough sketch of schism. 
" The Chancellor is so mortified at it," writes 
Chapuys, " that he is anxious above all things to 
resign his office." ^ " It is clear from this," adds 
Father Bridgett, " that his voice had ceased to have 
any weight in the royal councils ; yet either his 
name gave prestige to the government, or the King 
was still in hopes of gaining him to his side, or there 
was no pretext for his deposition." So false a 
situation could not hold for long. 

In May 1532, when the King wished to take a 
step forward and forbid the clergy to prosecute 
heretics or to hold any meeting whatsoever without 
his express permission. More and some of the bishops 
offered an energetic resistance to the new legal 
project. " The king is very angry," writes Chapuys, 
" especially with the Chancellor and the Bishop of 
Winchester, and is determined to carry the matter." * 
Three days later, on May 16, 1532, More finally 
induced the king to accept the reasons of health and 
others which rendered him unfit to retain his office. 
Henry had tried him and found him wanting; 
there was nothing to be gained from him, and the 
king consented, without anger, to dispense with his 

It meant poverty, almost want ; but any privation 
would have seemed a gain after the anguish of those 

' " So far as the law of Christ allows." 
^Letters and Papers, v. Ii2j B. i. 234. 
' Ibid., V. 1013 ; B. i. 235. 
r. 18 


terrible years. Mora's first thought on being com- 
pelled to put down all unnecessary expenses was to 
find situations for the men of his suite. When all 
were well provided for, he parted with his fool, 
whom he passed on to the Lord Mayor, and gave 
his successor the eight rowers and the great barge 
which had so often taken him from Chelsea to 

Then he called all his family together, and ad- 
dressed them, says his son-in-law, as follows : — 

" I have been brought up at Oxford, at an inn of the 
Chancery, at Lincoln's Inn, and also in the King's 
Court, and so forth from the lowest degree to the 
highest, and yet have I in yearly revenues at this 
present left me little above a hundred pounds by the 
year. So that now we must hereafter, if we like to 
live together, be contented to become contributaries 
together. But by my counsel it shall not be best 
for us to fall to the lowest fare first ; we will not, 
therefore, descend to Oxford fare, nor to the fare of 
New Inn, but we will begin with Lincoln's Inn diet, 
where many right worshipful and of good years do 
live full well, which, if we find not ourselves the 
first year able to maintain, then we will the next 
year go one step down to New Inn fare, wherewith 
many an honest man is well contented. If that 
exceed our ability too, then will we, the next 
year after, descend to Oxford fare, where many 
grave, learned, and ancient fathers be continually 
conversant. Which, if our ability stretch not to 
maintain neither, then may we yet, with bags and 
wallets, go a-begging together, and hoping that for 


pity some good folk will give us their charity, at 
every man's door to sing Salve Regina, and so still 
keep company and be merry together, like the poor 
students at Oxford." ^ 

" Be merry together ; " it was long since More 
had used that pleasant word, which he had always 
been fond of. We find it again now that he is 
on the downward slope. He had not time, alas I to 
shoulder his wallet again like the " poor students 
at Oxford," bat Harpsfield says that the whole 
house had to practise the strictest economy. " He 
was compelled for the lack of other fuel, every night 
before he went to bed, to cause a great burden of 
fern to be brought into his own chamber, and with 
the blaze thereof to warm himself, his wife and his 
children, and so without any other fires to go to 
their beds." ^ 


Events, meanwhile, were moving rapidly. On 
January 25, 1533, the king was secretly married to 
his favourite. In March, as soon as the bulls had 
arrived, and with the forced assent of the assembled 
clergy. Archbishop Cranmer summoned Henry 
before his tribunal, and declared his union with 
Catherine null and void. The consciences of these 
Pharisees on the legitimacy of Henry's marriage 
with Anne Boleyn were then reassured by a brief 

^ Roper, and Harpsfield (p. 294) for the last six words. 
^ B. i. 343, note. 


inquiry, and June 1 was fixed for ttie coronation of 
the queen. Till then More's departure had been 
cloaked under specious appearances. The king had 
made him flattering speeches, and informed him 
officially how much he regretted that the Chancellor's 
illness prevented him from continuing his valued 
services. Henry was reckoning, moreover, on his 
friend's presence at the coronation. By the king's 
orders three bishops wrote to More begging him to 
go with them to the celebration. The messenger 
also brought a fairly large sum of money, the price 
of the robes which the ex-Chancellor would have to 
order for the occasion. More kept the money and 
stayed at home. Some days later, meeting the 
bishops, he said to them : " My lords, in the letters 
which you lately sent me, you required two things of 
me : the one, sith I was so well content to grant you, 
the other therefore I thought I might be the bolder 
to deny you." The money, he added, he had 
accepted with gratitude and without a scruple, since 
the bishops wei'e rich and he poor. As to their 
other request, her had been unable to accede to it, 
and he thereupon told them a story, the moral of 
which was that the bishops, by risking their honour, 
would not escape the danger that threatened their 
heads. He himself might well lose his life, but his 
honour he would preserve. 

It should be noticed that in refusing the invitation 
More did not exactly refuse to acknowledge the new 
queen. He had said from the first that this matter 
was outside his province, and that he would have no 
dealings with it. Cranmer having pronounced judg- 


ment on the case, he had no thought of protesting 
against his decision.^ But he was equally unwilling 
to pay court to a woman he distrusted, and publicly 
deny the other queen, who in happier days had been 
kind to him, and to whom there was no reason 
against his remaining faithful. Here again we find 
the same admixture of submission and independence. 
His earliest editors either did not know or did not 
dare to publish a passage of his writings which leaves 
no doubt whatever of his attitude towards Anne 

" So am I he that among other his Grace's faith- 
ful subjects, his Highness being in possession of his 
marriage and this noble woman really anointed 
Queen, neither murmur at it nor dispute upon it, 
nor never did, nor will, but without any other 
meddling of the matter among his other faithful 
subjects, faithfully pray to God for his Grace and 
hers both long to live and well, and their noble issue 
too." 2 

With More, the English people remained faithful 
to Catherine of Aragon. The day of the coronation 
was as silent as a funeral, and not a soul was to be 
seen on the route taken by the usurping queen. The 
king wished to make an example which should 
quicken enthusiasm. At the convent of St Sepulchre 
at Canterbury there was a poor woman with a great 
reputation for holiness. Her visions and prophecies 

' The Pope's decision in favour of Catherine was not given till a 
year later ; it is dated March 23, 1534. 

^Letters and Papers, vii,, Doc. 289, pp. 123, 124. The letter is 
dated March 5, a few days before the decision of Rome. 


had an extraordinary renown, and she was im- 
prudent enough, when questioned about the divorce, 
to say that God disapproved of the king's conduct. 
She was hanged at Tyburn, with six of her partisans, 
on April 20, 1534. It had been hoped that the minute 
inquiry conducted into her case would reveal a nobler 
victim. In a paper of January 1534, on which 
Cromwell made notes of resolutions he was afraid 
of forgetting, we find, among other measures con- 
cerning the nun of Canterbury and her accomplices, 
this sinister memorandum : " Eftsoons to remember 
Master More to the King." i More had, in fact, had 
one or two conversations with the prophetess, and 
this was considered a good occasion to be rid of him. 
But his habitual caution had already sprung the trap. 
The incident is characteristic. As soon as she was 
alone with him, the " holy maid," after a few words 
of edification, had shown signs of embarking on 
political topics : More had silenced her. More than 
that, on his return home, foreseeing that others, less 
discreet than himself, might run the risk of com- 
promising the poor woman, he had written her an 
affectionate and delicately worded letter, imploring 
her to confine her communications to the things of 
the kingdom of God.^ The rough draft of the 
letter was still in his possession ; More sent it to 
Cromwell, who was convinced on inquiry ^ of its 

' B. i. 322. 

> When he wrote this letter. More still held Elizabeth Barton in 
high esteem. He changed his opinion later, when she had avowed 
herself an impostor. The avowal was wrung from her by torture, 
and there is no knowing what importance should be attached to it. 

^B. i.333, 334- 


authenticity, and was careful ncft to produce it at 
the trial. 

More wrote to Henry himself, at the same time as 
to Cromwell (March 5, 1534). It is a touching 
letter, which shows that what his noble and true 
heart suffered most from was the knowledge that 
his king suspected him of treason. 

" It may like your Highness to call to your 
gracious remembrance that at such time as of that 
great weighty room and office of your Chancellor 
... ye were so good as ... to discharge and dis- 
burden me ... it pleased your Highness further to 
say unto me, that for the service which before I had 
done you ... in any suit that I should after have to 
your Grace, that either should concern mine honour 
(that word it liked your Highness to use unto me), 
or that should pertain unto my profit, I should find 
your Highness good and gracious lord to me. So is 
it now, gracious Sovereign, that worldly honour is 
the thing whereof I have resigned both the posses- 
sion and the desire, in the resignation of your most 
honourable office; and worldly profit I trust ex- 
perience proveth, and daily more and more shall 
prove, that I never was very greedy thereon. But 
now is my most humble suit unto your excellent 
Highness . . . that . . . no sinister information move 
your noble Grace to have any more distrust of my 
truth and devotion toward you than I have or shall 
during my life give the cause. ... 1 only beseech 
your Majesty . . . consider and weigh the matter 
. . . and that if, in your so doing, your own virtuous 
mind shall give you that ... I be a wretch of such 


a monstrous ingratitude . . . then desire I no further 
favour at your gracious hand than the loss of all 
that ever I may ever lose, goods, lands, liberty, and 
my life withal, vvhereof the keeping of any part unto 
myself could never do me pennyworth of pleasure. 
But only should my comfort be, that after my short 
life and your long ... I should once meet your 
Grace and be merry again with you in heaven, where, 
among mine other pleasures, this should yet be one, 
that your Grace should surely see there then that, 
howsoever you take me, I am your true bedesman 
now, and ever have been, and will be till I die, how- 
soever your pleasure be to do by me." ^ 

Any one but Henry VIII. would at least have 
granted a truce to such humble grandeur, such 
transparent honesty; but the unhappy king was 
possibly no longer capable of comprehending such 
accents. He was determined to combine the cases 
of the prophetess and of Sir Thomas More, and to 
arraign More on a charge of high treason. The 
ex-Chancellor had demanded to plead his cause 
before the Upper Chamber, and the lords, though 
not overflowing with courage, had signed a petition 
praying that the accused might be brought before 
them. But they were not yet sufficiently to be de- 
pended on. The King decided that More should be 
heard before a commission of four members of the 
Privy Council, Cranmer, Audley, the Duke of Nor- 
folk, and Thomas Cromwell. Such men as these 
could be spoken to without ambiguity, and Henry 
explained to them that what he expected of them 
' Ellis, Letters, ii. p. 47 ; Letters and Papers, vii. 288. 


was not a conviction, which he did not want, but a 
final assault on More's obstinacy. They acted 
accordingly, promised, threatened, talked of ingrati- 
tude; finally, for the sake of peace and quietness, 
dismissed the accused. 

"Then," writes Roper, "took Sir Thomas More 
his boat towards his house at Chelsea, wherein by 
the way he was very merry, and for that I was 
nothing sorry, hoping that he had gotten himself 
discharged out of the Parliament bill. When he was 
landed and come home, then walked we twain alone 
in his garden together ; when I, desirous to know 
how he had sped, said : ' I trust, sir, that all is well 
because that you be so merry.' ' It is so indeed, 
son Roper, I thank God,' quoth he. 'Are you then 
put out of the Parliament bill ? ' quoth I. ' By my 
troth, son Roper,' quoth he, ' I never remembered 
it I' ' Never remembered it!' said I, 'a case that 
toucheth yourself so near, and us all for your sake 1 
I am sorry to hear it, for I verily trusted, when I 
saw you so merry, that all had been well.' Then 
said he : ' Wilt thou know, son Roper, why I was so 
merry?' 'That would I gladly, sir,' quoth I. 'In 
good faith I rejoiced, son,' said he, 'that I had 
given the devil a foul fall, and that with those 
lords I had gone so far as without great shame I 
would never go back again.' At which words I 
waxed very sad ; for though himself liked it well, yet 
liked it we but little." 

The King was furious at the result of the con- 
ference, and commanded the bill to be brought on. 
The Chancellor and the rest fell on their knees 


to implore him not to adopt this procedure. The 
innocence of More's relations with the nun of 
Canterbury was so evident that it would be mere 
folly to rely on such grounds. The king, very much 
against his will, allowed himself to be convinced. 
" On the morrow after," Roper continues, " Master 
Cromwell meeting me in the Parliament house, willed 
me to tell my father that he was put out of the 
Parliament bill. But because I had appointed to 
dine that day in London, I sent the message by my 
servant to my wife to Chelsea. Whereof when she 
informed her father, ' In faith, Meg,' quoth he, 
' Quod differtur non aufertur,' After this, as the 
Duke of Norfolk and Sir Thomas More chanced to 
fall in familiar talk together, the Duke said unto 
him : ' By the Mass, Master More, it is perilous 
striving with princes, therefore I would wish you 
somewhat to incline to the King's pleasure. For by 
God's body. Master More, Indignatio principis mors 
est.' 'Is that all, my lord?' quoth he; 'then in 
good faith the difference between your Grace and me 
is but this, that / shall die to-day and you to-morrow,' " 

That same month of March 1534, Parliament 
passed an Act confirming the marriage of Henry 
and Anne Boleyn, and guaranteeing her children the 
right of succession to the crown. It was made high 
treason to oppose the Act ; and to obviate any reser- 
vations, every subject in the kingdom was compelled 


to take an oath before the king himself or his 
delegates to observe the new law in its entirety. 
The form of the oath, which was drawn up by the 
commission, was not confined to acknowledging the 
rights of Anne Boleyn and all children to be born of 
her ; it was aggravated by a preamble in which the 
authority of the Pope was formally rejected. 

The people obeyed in a body. The execution of 
the " holy maid " did not go for nothing in overcom- 
ing their repugnance ; and who was likely to be a 
better judge of this case of conscience than the 
Archbishop of Canterbury, who had been appointed 
to receive their submission ? Then, too, a prudent 
reservation came to soothe the conscience, if need 
were ; some people took the oath "so far as it be not 
contrary to the law of God." It was in that sense, 
no doubt, that More's own favourite daughter, 
Margaret Roper, obeyed the wishes of Parliament. 
But such little evasions, permissible or pardonable 
in the common run, were unworthy of a Fisher or a 
Thomas More. For them, the limits of legitimate 
concession had now been passed. 

On Low Sunday, April 12, More came to London 
to hear a sermon at St Paul's, and went on to see 
John Clements. His presence was noticed, and he 
was quickly accosted by an officer of the Court, who 
summoned him to appear the next day at Lambeth 
before the royal commissioners, to take the new 

" Then Sir Thomas More," says Roper, " as his 
accustomed manner was always ere he entered into 
any matter of importance — as when he was first 


chosen of the King's privy council, when he was sent 
ambassador, appointed Speaker of the Parliament, 
made Lord Chancellor, or when he took any like 
weighty matter upon him — to go to church and be 
confessed, to hear Mass, and be houseled, so did he 
likewise in the morning early the selfsame day that 
he was summoned to appear before the lords at 
Lambeth. And whereas he evermore used before, 
at his departure from his wife and children, whom 
he tenderly loved, to have them bring him to his 
boat, and then to kiss them, and bid them all fare- 
well, then would he suffer none of them forth of the 
gate to follow him, but pulled the wicket after him, 
and »hut them all from him, and with a heavy heart, 
as by his countenance it appeared, with me and 
our four servants then took boat towards Lambeth. 
Wherein sitting still sadly a while, at the last he 
rounded me in the ear and said : ' Son Roper, I 
thank our Lord the field is won.' What he meant 
thereby I wist not, yet loath to seem ignorant, I 
answered : ' Sir, I am very glad thereof.' But, as 
I conjectured afterwards, it was for that the love he 
had to God wrought in him so effectually, that it 
conquered all his carnal affections utterly." 

A few minutes later. More stood before his 

The history of the Church contains few more 
important pages. The scene is well known, the 
banks of the Thames at Lambeth and the palace 
of the Archbishops of Canterbury, the successors of 
Anselm and Thomas a Becket. On the opposite 
bank rose the marvellous church where slept the 


dust of King Edward the Confessor. On those two 
sacred spots converge the recollections of centuries 
of faith, the martyr-roll of lona and Bangor, the 
incomparable golden legend of the island that 
was indeed the isle of saints. All these ghosts 
were now to be exorcised. Behind the scenes, a 
little distance off, was King Henry directing the 
drama. Close by his side is a woman, and in a 
cradle a child of eight months, the future Queen 
Elizabeth. On the stage sit four factotums, 
Chancellor Audley, Thomas Cromwell, and two 
churchmen, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of 
Canterbury, and the Abbot of Westminster. Be- 
fore them come nobles and priests stepping gaily 
to deny the authority of the Bishop of Rome. No 
one has yet dared to refuse the oath ; but at last 
there comes one who stands and faces the com- 
missioners, Sir Thomas IVIore. His is the Catholic 
conscience, neither strained nor brittle, but immov- 
able. The deed that is being done in this hall is 
the schism of England, the England whose imperial 
destinies we know so well to-day, and the schism is 
more disastrous to the Roman Church and more 
to be deplored than even the revolt of Luther. We 
only want the laughter and the jokes for the drama 
to resemble a scene from Shakespeare ; and here 
they are to hand. Sir Thomas More himself has 
preserved the remembrance of the smallest details 
of the spectacle. From the little room where they 
bid him go to reflect a little further, his gaze fell 
over the garden. 
" In that time saw I Master Doctor Latimer come 


into the garden, and there walked he with divers 
other doctors and chaplains of my Lord of Canter- 
bury, and very merry I saw him, for he laughed, and 
took one or twain about the neck so handsomely, 
that if they had been women, I would have weened 
he had been waxen wanton. ... I heard also that 
Master Vicar of Croydon, and all the remnant of 
the priests of London that were sent for, were 
sworn ; and that they had such favour at the 
council's hand, that they were not lingered, nor 
made to dance any long attendance to their travail 
and cost, as suitors were sometimes wont to be, but 
were sped apace to their great comfort ; so far forth 
that Master Vicar of Croydon, either for gladness or 
for dryness, or else that it might be seen, Quod ille 
notus erat pontifici, went to my Lord's buttery bar, 
and called for drink, and drank valde familiariter." 
More's interrogation was pressed hard ; the former 
advocate had lost none of his resource, but he had 
never had to do with such cunning opponents. He 
all but lost his footing, as he himself relates. 

" My Lord of Canterbury, taking hold upon that 
that I had said, that I condemned not the con- 
sciences of them that sware, said unto me that it 
appeared well that I did not take it for a very sure 
thing and a certain, that 1 might not lawfully swear 
it, but rather as a thing uncertain and doubtful. But 
then (said my Lord) you know for a certainty, and a 
thing without doj^ibt, that you be bounden to obey 
your sovereign lord your King. And therefore are 
you bounden to leave off the doubt of your unsure 
conscience in refusing the oath, and take the sure 


way of obeying your prince, and swear it. Now all 
was it so, that in mine own mind me thought my- 
self not concluded, yet this argument seemed me 
suddenly so subtle, and namely with such authority 
coming out of so noble a prelate's mouth, that I 
could again answer nothing thereto, but only that 
I thought myself I might not well do so, because 
that in my conscience this was one of the cases in 
which I was bounden that I should not obey my 
prince, sith that whatsoever other folk thought in 
the matter (whose conscience or learning I would 
not condemn nor take upon me to judge), yet in my 
conscience the truth seemed on the tother side." 

Thereupon the Abbot of Westminster appealed to 
his modesty, observing that, since the great council 
of the realm had determined contrary to him, he 
ought not to persist in following his own opinion. 
More replied instantly that on the side of his con- 
science against the council of the realm he had 
a greater council still, "the general council of 
Christendom." Then Thomas Cromwell, who had 
no mind to be like the judges of the first martyrs, 
far from crying out with a loud voice at the scandal, 
" sware a great oath that he had sooner that his 
only son . . . had lost his head than that I should 
have refused the oath " ; for what would the king 
think, and what would he do ? 

" To which I said that . . . whatsoever should mis- 
hap me, it lay not in my power to help it without 
the peril of my soul." ^ 

^ The whole story of the scene is given in one of More's letters 
to his daughter Margaret ; cf. B. i. 353-357. 


No dialectic in the world could prevail over such 
a man. The judges recognised that at last, and 
abandoned a useless discussion. The poor souls 
deserve our pity, for they were in a worse case 
than their victim. The man before the tribunal 
was an old friend. They had met him often in 
other circumstances, and neither the summit of 
honour nor the worst extremities of human life 
could make the smallest change in his attractive 
grace, his wit, or his affectionate good-nature. As 
Erasmus says, he was one of those whom one 
could not help loving, and now that he showed so 
much simple courage under his sweet and pre- 
possessing exterior, his charm must have been 
stronger than ever. We may safely say for them 
and for Sir Thomas More, that every one of them, 
including even Cromwell, would have been only too 
glad to find some way out of the difficulty, and it 
was not policy alone that suggested the thousand 
means of saving him which they united in trying to 

There was one still possible. More had expressly 
stated that the preamble of the oath was all that 
offended his conscience. He made no difficulty 
about acknowledging the rights of the queen and the 
accession to the throne of the children born of the 
marriage. But he could not suffer the attack 
aimed in the preamble at the authority of the 
Bishop of Rome.i Cranmer, the subtle and con- 

^ The Pope had declared the validity of the marriage of Henry 
and Catherine ; and it certainly seems, therefore, that, with or 
without the preamble, the oath was scarcely compatible with the 


ciliating, asked Cromwell, therefore, to put before 
the king a new form of oath, which " iVIaster 
More " might sign without further scruple. " And, 
peradventure, it should be a good quietation to 
many other within this realm, if such men 
{i.&. as the Bishop of Rochester and More) 
should say that the succession comprised within 
the said Act is good and according to God's 
laws." 1 

But it was too late. The self-love of the tyrant, 
once held in check by the honesty of these two, was 
clamouring for vengeance, and Henry refused to 
grant his counsellors' request. 

When the inquiry was over and the sentence 
given. More had been handed over for a few days to 
the Abbot of Westminster's guard. On April 17, 
having again refused to subscribe to the oath, he was 
taken to the Tower. 

On his way to prison, " wearing, as he commonly 
did, a chain of gold about his neck. Sir Richard 
Southwell, that had the charge of his con- 
veyance thither, advised him to send home 
his chain to his wife or to some of his children. 
' Nay, sir,' quoth he, ' that I will not : for 
if I were taken in the field by my enemies I 
would they should somewhat fare the better for 
me.' At whose landing Master Lieutenant was 
ready at the Tower gate to receive him, when 

rights of the Holy See. The attack, however, was less explicit 
and less direct ; and in any case it is clear that neither More nor 
Fisher thought of this consequence. 
1 B. i. 359. 



the porter demanded of him his upper gar- 
ment. ' Master porter,' quoth he, ' here it 
is,' and took off his cap and delivered it to 
him, saying, ' I am very sorry it is no better for 

' Roper. 



Surely, Meg, a fainter heart than thy frail father hath thou 
canst not have. . . . And verily, my dear daughter, in this is my 
great comfort, that albeit I am almost afraid of a fillip, yet in all 
the agonies that I have had, I thank the mighty mercy of God, I 
never in my mind intended to consent to do anything against my 
conscience. — English Works, p. 1446. 

" A FAINTER heart:" the phrase, I think, may 
■'^ be taken literally. More had not the soldier's 
temperament, in which a certain initial strength 
reinforced by training diminishes the natural 
cowardice of the nervous system and the horror 
of the imagination for all physical suffering. With 
more serenity, perhaps, than Erasmus, he had all 
his friend's somewhat timid sensitiveness; and the 
lives of both, easy and peaceful for the times they 
lived in, had left intact the delicate tenderness 
of their natures.^ 

Moreover, the hair-shirt which More, the more 
ardent of the two, considered necessary to the 

^ It may be remembered that Erasmus, when at Venice, could 
not stand the very Italian and summary rigiine of his friends the 
Aldi, with whom he was living. More's chest, especially towards 
the close of his life, caused his family some anxiety, and both were 
threatened with the stone, the dreadful penalty exacted by the 
science of those days. 



resistance of common temptations, had not made 
him one of the heroes who go joyfully to torture ; 
and far from pretending to make light of the punish- 
ment that awaited him, he feebly confessed his 
terror, and tried to keep his mind from dwelling 
to no purpose on that aspect, and to repose with 
childlike confidence on the store of courage that 
heaven would send him when the moment came. 

As to his imprisonment, strict as it was, he had no 
trouble in making the best of it. Studious and 
prayerful by nature, he had preserved out of his 
old inclination towards the life of the cloister a sort 
of home-sickness for solitude, and the disturbances 
of his later years had prepared him to look on rest 
as a gift from heaven. To him, therefore, the Tower 
was a monastery, and his cell the cell of a monk. 
And no monk ever adapted himself more obediently 
to the monotony of his rule. The Dialogue of 
Comfort against Tribulation, which was written 
during his last fourteen months, is the most repose- 
ful, the most smiling of all his books ; and if he had 
been the only one to suffer, the condemned prisoner 
would have thought himself blessed with all the 
happiness that his unexacting philosophy looked to 
find in this world. 

" I believe, Megg," he said to his daughter, " that 
they that have put me here ween they have done me 
a high displeasure, but I assure thee on my faith, 
mine own good daughter, if it had not been for my 
wife and ye that be my children ... I would not have 
failed long ere this to have closed myself in as strait 
a room, and straiter too. But since I am come 


hither without mine own desert, I trust that God of 
His goodness will discharge me of my care, and with 
His gracious help supply my lack among you. I find 
no cause, I thank God, Megg, to reckon myself in 
worse case here than in mine own house, for me 
thinketh God maketh me a wanton, and setteth me 
on His lap and dandleth me." ^ 

But at Chelsea, the grief of his family was inex- 
pressible. He had long prepared them, however, for 
the trial, and like a too learned teacher who fails to 
perceive the moment at which the affection of his 
pupils follows him while their intelligence is left 
behind, he believed in his simple heart that they 
understood his meaning when he spoke with tranquil 
conviction of the nothingness of life. And now he 
had to begin all over again. 

Lady More, a woman of middle age and very 
ordinary mind, was the most difficult to convince. 
She was unselfish enough to deny herself everything 
in order to provide as well as she could for the main- 
tenance of the prisoner ; but she did not even try to 
see the sense of her husband's strange caprice. Why 
could he not do like everybody else, and follow the 
example of a number of excellent people of their 
acquaintance ? He had had many a crotchet in his 
life before, but this was going beyond the bounds. 

" ' What the good-yere, Master More,' " said she at 
their first meeting — Roper tells the story, and his 
simple narrative seems to convey the very accents of 
the good lady — " ' I marvel that you that have been 
always hitherto taken for so wise a man will now so 
' Roper ; cf. B. i. 367. 


play the fool to lie here in this close filthy prison, 
and be content thus to be shut up among mice and 
rats, when you might be abroad at your liberty, and 
with the favour and good-will both of the King and 
his council if you would but do as all the bishops 
and best learned of this realm have done. And 
seeing you have at Chelsea a right fair house, your 
library, your gallery, your garden, your orchard, and 
all other necessaries so handsome about you, when 
you might in the company of me your wife, your 
children, and household, be merry, I muse what a 
God's name you mean here still thus fondly to tarry.' 
After he had a while quietly heard her, with a cheer- 
ful countenance he said unto her : ' I pray thee, good 
Mistress Alice, tell me one thing ! ' ' What is that ? ' 
quoth she. ' Is not this house,' quoth he, ' as nigh 
heaven as mine own ? ' To whom she, after her 
accustomed homely fashion, not liking such talk, 
answered : ' Tylle valle, Tylle valle 1 ' ' How say you. 
Mistress Alice, is it not so ? ' ' Bone Deus, bone Deus, 
man, will this gear never be left ? ' quoth she." 

A passage in the Dialogue of Comfort against 
Tribulation shows her again, examining the cell, 
inspecting on the floor and along the walls the straw 
mats which More had sent for to keep him from the 
cold, groaning as she looked at the massive bolts, 
and crying that for her part she could never breathe 
at night with such doors shut upon her.i Indeed we 
know not whether to laugh or cry at the spectacle of 
these two, so near and yet so far ; she treating him 

1 Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, Book iii., cap. xx. j 
English Works, p. 1247. 


iike a fractious child of whose prattling no one takes 
any notice, and he cutting short his useless replies 
and waiting patiently till she shall have finished 
scolding him. 


But certain more touching visits are eternally 
bound up in the memory with the story of these long 
months in prison. To tell the truth, it takes a Plato 
to write at the dictation of a just man on the point 
of death, and all we have is the long and heavy letter 
in which Margaret Roper describes her last interview 
with her father. But such as it is, the letter is in- 
estimably precious, and I regret that I cannot tran- 
scribe it in full. Two or three times Margaret Roper 
had obtained leave to visit her father. It was hoped 
in high quarters that the final intervention of his 
favourite child might possibly succeed at last in over- 
coming the prisoner's obstinacy. More's dear " Meg " 
was too like himself, and had been too long the com- 
panion of his constant thoughts not to feel in her 
heart of hearts that her father was right and the 
rest of the world wrong. But she was possessed by 
a desire to save him at any cost, and she tried to 
shut her eyes to the truth. Obviously she could hit 
on no new arguments. Cleverer minds than hers 
had exhausted every means of persuasion. But she 
summed up in her own person, if I may so express 
it, in a most appealing manner, everything that could 
induce More to cling, or rather to resign himself, to 


life. There lies the mournful beauty of this meeting. 
We know beforehand that the appeal is hopeless, 
but we share her suffering and his at the thought of 
what both must have endured during the long talk 
which reminded them of all the past and cruelly tore 
away the veil of the future. Margaret Roper's 
letter has the advantage also of showing Thomas 
More as he was. Beneath his daughter's cumbrous 
phrases we can hear his own voice speaking, now, 
and most frequently, with the somewhat professorial 
copiousness that he was by no means averse from, 
and now with lively sallies of humour, slyness, and 

Margaret Roper's letter is addressed to her 
" sister," Alice Alington. " At my next being with 
him," she writes, " after your letter received, when I 
had a while talked with him, first of his diseases 
both in his breast as of old and his reins now, by 
reason of gravel and stone, and of the cramp also 
that divers nights grippeth him in his legs, and that 
I found by his words that they were not much in- 
creased, but continued after their manner that they 
did before, sometimes very sore and sometimes little 
grief, and that at that time I found him out of pain, 
and, as one in his case might, meekly well-minded, 
after our seven psalms and the litany said, to sit 
and talk and be merry, beginning first with other 
things, of the good comfort of my mother, and the 
good order of my brother, and all my sisters, dis- 
posing themselves every day more and more to set 
little by the world, and draw more and more to God, 
and that his household, his neighbours, and other 


good friends abroad, diligently remembered him in 
their prayers. . . ." ^ 

These preliminaries over, she plunged straight 
into the object of her visit, reminding More that he 
might well follow the example of many " great, wise, 
and well-learned men." Then, drawing from her 
pocket a paper, she went on : "I have received a 
letter of late from my sister Alington, by which I see 
well, that if ye change not your mind, you are likely 
to lose all those friends that are able to do you any 
good. . . . With this my father smiled upon me and 
said: What, mistress Eve, . . . hath my daughter 
Alington played the serpent with you, and with a 
letter set you awork to come tempt your father 
again, and for the favour that you bear him, labour 
to make him swear against his conscience? . . . 
And after that, he looked sadly again, and earnestly 
said unto me, Daughter Margaret, we two have 
talked of this thing ofter than twice or thrice, . . . 
and I have twice answered you too, that in this 
matter, if it were possible for me to do the thing 
that might content the king's grace, and God there- 
with not offended, then hath no man taken this oath 
already more gladly than I would do." 

Alice Alington's letter had evidently been written 
on purpose to be shown to More, and was nothing 
but an indirect warning from the Lord Chancellor. 
A few days before, he had gone — and not by accident 

1 This letter is printed at the end of More's English Works. 
His biographers give long extracts from it ; and it may be found 
complete, and more easily read, in the appendix to Roper's life 
of More (The King's Classics, 1903). 


— to course a buck in Alice's husband's park, and 
had asked her to come and see him the next day. 
She went early and eagerly, expecting to hear some 
good news of him whom she called her father. After 
protesting his friendship for More, the Chancellor 
had added : " In good faith ... I am very glad that 
I have no learning, but in a few of ^sop's fables, of 
the which I shall tell you one. There was a country 
in which there were almost none but fools, saving a 
few which were wise, and they by their wisdom 
knew that there should fall a great rain, the which 
should make them all fools, that should be fouled 
or wet therewith. They, seeing that, made them 
caves under the ground, till all the rain was past. 
Then they came forth, thinking to make the fools 
do what they list, and to rule them as they would. 
But the fools would none of that, but would have 
the rule themselves for all their craft. And when 
the wise men saw that they could not obtain their 
purpose they wished that they had been in the rain, 
and had defiled their clothes with them." Alice 
made no mistake about the meaning of the fable, 
and begged the Chancellor to make one more 
attempt for More's safety. The men of that date 
were certainly in less of a hurry than we are. 
Audley, whose own life was in no danger, had not 
let Lady Alington go without inflicting another 
fable on her. It was one we know already. More, 
who possibly took it from this letter of Alice's, 
made it the foundation of one of the chapters of 
the treatise he was then writing. It is the story 
of the ass and the wolf who went to confession. 


In Audley's version, the ass, like La Fontaine's, 
was sent to the bishop's tribunal for a peccadillo, a 
scruple, while the wolf continued his depredations 

"The Chancellor," remarks Nisard, "had at least 
the merit, being on the side of the fools and the 
wolves, not to pretend to wisdom and scruples like 
the king his master." 

Poor bewildered Alice had not known what answer 
to make to this flood of literature, and had sent the 
equivocal message for what it was worth, so that 
Margaret might transmit it to the prisoner. More 
read the letter brought him by his daughter ; then, 
characteristically enough — 

"When he came to the end, he began it afresh 
and read over again. And in the reading he made 
no manner haste, but advised it leisurely, and 
pointed every word. And after that he paused, 
and then thus he said, ' Forsooth, daughter 
Margaret, I find my daughter Alington such as I 
have ever found her, and I trust ever shall, as 
naturally minding me as you that are my own.i 
Howbeit, her take I verily for mine own too, 
since I have married her mother, and brought up 
her of a child, as I have brought up you, in other 
things and learning both, wherein 1 thank God she 
findeth now some fruit, and bringeth her own up 
very virtuously and well. Whereof God, I thank 
him, hath sent her good store; our Lord preserve 
them and send her much joy of them, and my 

1 Alice Alington was Lady More's daughter by her first 


good son her gentle husband too. ... I am daily 
bedesman (and so write her) for them all. In this 
matter she has used herself like herself, wisely.' " 

His first thought, then, was for those kind souls 
in distress, but the Lord Chancellor lost nothing by 
being kept waiting. 

" But in this matter, Megg, to tell the truth 
between thee and me, my lord's ^sop's fables do 
not greatly move me. But as his wisdom, for his 
pastime, told them merely to my one daughter, so 
shall I, for my pastime, answer them to thee, Megg, 
that art mine other." 

If the reader feels at all impatient, he should 
remember that here is a father bent on distracting 
the mind of his child, just as he had been used to 
do in the days when he took the little Meg on his 
knees and made up interminable stories to help her 
forget her childish troubles. More begins with a 
sly hit characteristic of the man of letters. He 
reminds his daughter that the first of the two riddles 
had not the honour of being a discovery of the 
Chancellor's. The fable of the rain which washed 
away the wits of all it fell on had been used by 
Wolsey, and Lord Audley, none too rich in invention 
himself, had found it among the traditions of the 
woolsack. More applies the fable very wittily, and 
draws from it a most sensible conclusion. " If those 
wise men, Megg, when the rain was gone at their 
coming abroad, where they found all men fools, 
wished themselves fools too, because they could not 
rule them, then seemeth it that the foolish rain was 
so sore a shower, that even through the ground it 


sank into their caves, and poured down upon their 
heads, and wet them to the skin." " But," he 
added, " I trust my Lord (Audley) reckoneth me 
among the fools, and so reckoneth I myself, as my 
name is in Greek. . . . But surely, among those 
that long to be rulers, God and mine own conscience 
clearly knoweth, that no man may number and 
reckon me." He had struck a loftier note towards 
the end of his commentary, but the second fable 
makes him merry again. 

"The second fable, Marget, seemeth not to be 
^sop's. For by that the matter goeth all upon 
confession, it seemeth to be feigned since Christen- 
dom began. For in Greece, before Christ's days, 
they used not confession no more the men then than 
the beasts now. But what ? who made it, maketh 
but little matter. Nor I envy not that Msop hath 
the name." 

Then comes a long commentary followed by a long 
story. More was quite willing to be the ass of the 
fable, but he refused to acknowledge that the step 
demanded of him was a mere peccadillo. Be that 
how it might, his conscience was so made, and even 
the example of old Bishop Fisher could not move it. 

" Verily, daughter, I never intend (God being my 
good Lord) to pin my soul at another man's back, 
not even the best man that I know this day living." 

Besides, was it quite certain that he stood alone 
in his opinion ? 

" Now thus far forth, I say for them that are yet 
alive. But go we now to them that are dead before, 
and that are, I trust, in heaven, I am sure that it is 


not the fewer part of them, that all the time while 
they lived, thought in some of the things that way 
that I think now. ... I pray God give me the grace 
that my soul may follow theirs. And yet I show 
you not all, Marget, that I have for myself in that 
sure discharge of my conscience.^ But for the con- 
clusion, daughter Margaret, of all this matter, as I 
have often told you, I take not upon me neither to 
define nor dispute in these matters, nor I rebuke not 
nor impugn any other man's deed, nor I never wrote, 
not so much as spake in any company, any word of 
reproach in anything that the Parliament had passed, 
nor I meddle not with the conscience of any other 
man, that either thinketh, or saith he thinketh, 
contrary unto mine. But as concerning mine own 
self, for thy comfort shall I say, daughter, to thee, 
that mine own conscience in this matter (I damn 
none other man's) is such, as may well stand with 
mine own salvation ; thereof am I, Megg, as sure as 
that God is in heaven. . . ." " When he saw me 
sit with this very sad," Margaret continues, " as I 
promise you, sister, my heart was full heavy for the 
peril of his person, nay, for in faith I fear not his 
soul, he smiled upon me and said: How now, 
daughter Marget ? What how. Mother Eve ? 
Where is your mind now? Sit not musing with 
some serpent in your breast, upon some new per- 
suasion, to offer father Adam the apple once again. 
In good faith, father (quoth I), I can no further go, 
but am (as I trow Cressida saith in Chaucer) come 

^ More frequently said that he would not give all the reasons 
which made it his duty to decline the oath. 


to Dulcarmon, even at my wits' end. For sith the 
ensample of so many wise men cannot in the matter 
move you, I see not what to say more, but if I should 
look to persuade you with the reason that Master 
Harry Pattenson " (More's old fool) " made. For he 
met one day one of our men, and when he had asked 
where you were, and heard that you were in the 
Tower still, he waxed even angry with you and said : 
'Why, what aileth him that he will not swear? 
Wherefore should he stick to swear ? I have sworn 
the oath myself.' And so I can in good faith go 
now no further neither . . . but if I should say, like 
Master Harry: Why should you refuse to swear, 
father? for I have sworn myself. At this he laughed 
and said : That word was like Eve too, for she 
offered Adam no worse fruit than she had eaten 
And so the dialogue goes on. 


The year 1534 closed with an increase in the 
rigour of his confinement. More was now isolated. 
Since their entreaties had had no effect on him, 
his family were refused permission to visit him. 
In November Parliament passed an Act explicitly 
acknowledging the king as head of the Church of 
England. More seems to have had no further doubts 
on the fatal issue. The few letters he was able to 
send to his family were more affectionate than ever ; 
letters of farewell, indeed, in which he is careful not 


to forget the babes and their nurses, the maids and 
all the servants. To a fellow-prisoner, who was 
wavering in his first resolution, he repeats that he 
has never attempted to influence any one, no matter 
whom, to refuse the oath. Finally, in order to be 
still more alone, he watches all night in his cell, and 
is lost in still more earnest and unbroken prayer. 
It annoys him that people come faf too often to 
weary him with new entreaties or supplementary 
examinations. What good could they do ? It was 
only too clear by that time that the king's anger was 
at its height, and that the penalty was not far off. 
At the end of April he was summoned before a com- 
mission, and refused to give his opinion on the new 
statute. His answer to Cromwell was that he had 
fully determined himself "neither to study nor to 
meddle with any matter of the world, but that my 
whole study should be upon the Passion of Christ 
and mine own passage out of this world." ^ 

" And here am I " (i.e. in prison) " yet in such case 
as I was, neither better or worse." ^ Once more, on 
May 6, his daughter was allowed to see him. The 
day was well chosen for this last assault. From the 
window. More, leaning on his daughter's shoulder, 
saw the monks of the Charterhouse going to martyr- 
dom. " Lo, doest thou not see, Megg, that these 
blessed fathers be now as cheerfully going to their 
deaths as bridegrooms to their marriage ? . . . For 
God, considering their long-continued life in most 
sore and grievous penance, will no longer sufPer them 
to remain here in this vale of misery and iniquity, 
1 B. i. 402. ' B. i. 403. 


but speedily hence taketh them to the fruition of His 
everlasting Deity. Whereas thy silly father, Megg, 
that like a most wicked caitiff hath passed forth the 
whole course of his miserable life most sinfully, God, 
thinking him not so worthy so soon to come to that 
eternal felicity, leaveth him here yet still in the world 
further to be plagued and turmoiled with misery." i 

Three days later, Cromwell, the Archbishop of 
Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the Duke of 
Norfolk, and the Earl of Wiltshire came to bring 
him the king's latest commands. Silence was inad- 
missible, and his Majesty desired More to say what 
he thought of the statute. More refused to reply. 
Finally, they said to him brutally. Since you have no 
wish to live, why not say definitely that the law is 
bad ? He made a noble reply : " I have not been a 
man of such holy living as I might be bold to ofFer 
myself to death, lest God, for my presumption, might 
suffer me to fall." ^ 

The second batch of the London Carthusians 
were executed on June 19, and Bishop Fisher two 
days later. More was kept till the last. On July 1, 
1535, he appeared before his judges. It was the 
first time he had left the Tower since his long 
months of imprisonment, and the crowd found some 
difficulty, perhaps, in recognising the bent old man 
with long beard and grey hair, who walked painfully, 
leaning on a stick. Who would have thought, five 
years before, that the Chancellor of England would 
one day return to Westminster, there to be con- 
demned to death ? 

' Roper. ' B. i. 408. 


The accusation, which is drawn up in Latin, is 
excessively long, and loaded with false charges and 
imaginary complaints. It is based, not on the law 
of succession, but on the last Act of Parliament pro- 
claiming the supremacy of the king over the Church 
of England. More persisted in the attitude which 
he had advised a client to adopt and had chosen for 
himself. He refused to commit himself on the 
subject of the statute. These were matters with 
which he did not meddle. He neither approved nor 
condemned, and kept his thoughts t6 himself. It 
gives one real pleasure to see him defending this 
standpoint with all his usual vigour and subtlety. 
The issue of the trial was never in doubt, but the 
old advocate seems to wish for a final victory before 
saying farewell to the bar. " Neither your statute 
nor any laws in the world," said he, " punish people 
except for words and deeds — surely not for keeping 
silence." The Attorney-General was obliged to 
interrupt him for fear the judges should be shaken, 
and a false witness was called, named Rich, who 
pretended that the accused had uttered seditious 
words to him. More collected his forces. Before 
long the Christian will pardon the perjurer ; mean- 
while the advocate, the man of honour, is speaking, 
and with no uncertain voice. 

" If I were a man, my lords, that did not regard 
an oath, I need not stand in this place, at this time, 
as an accused person. And if this oath of yours, 
Mr Rich, be true, then I pray that I may never see 
the face of God, which I would not say were it 
otherwise to win the whole world." 


The trial was continued in accordance with 
accepted forms. The jury retired for a few minutes, 
and then returned in haste as if overwhelmed by 
the evidence of the prisoner's guilt. They pro- 
nounced him guilty, and it only remained for the 
Chancellor to bow in his turn and pronounce the 

And now More's mouth was opened. Up till then, 
professional scruples, and, still more, the fear of tempt- 
ing God by throwing up his brief for his own defence, 
had persuaded him that it was his duty to play his 
part in this comedy of legality. But with the 
passing of the sentence the curtain had fallen. It 
was no longer a case of witnesses, counsel, and 
judges, but of a Christian confessing his faith in the 
midst of a number of unhappy men who loved him, 
admired him, and knew that he was right. 

" Since I am condemned, and God knows how, I 
wish to speak freely of your statute, for the dis- 
charge of my conscience. For the seven years that 
I have studied the matter, I have not read in any 
approved doctor of the Church that a temporal lord 
could or ought to be head of the spirituality. . . . 
For one bishop of your opinion I have a hundred 
saints of mine; and for one Parliament of yours, 
and God knows of what kind, I have all the General 
Councils for 1000 years ; and for one kingdom I have 
France and all the kingdoms of Christendom. "^ 

Then he was seized with great pity for all these 
men who no longer dared look him in the face, and 
a smile spread slowly over his lips, the smile he had 
doubtless worn before when bringing his friends to 


the door of his house at Chelsea, and restoring them 
all to harmony, after a stormy philosophic dis- 
cussion, by the mere force of his personal charm. 

" More have I not to say, my Lords, but that like 
as the blessed apostle St Paul . . . was present and 
consented to the death of St Stephen . . . and yet 
be they now both twain holy saints in heaven, and 
shall continue there friends for ever, so I verily trust, 
and shall therefor right heartily pray, that though 
your lordships have now here in earth been judges 
to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in heaven 
merrily all meet together to everlasting salvation." 

" Merrily ! " once more we have that delightful 
word, that comes better from his lips than any one's ; 
and we see (for indeed it is he that seems the 
master here) the noble gesture of farewell which 
closes the sitting and dismisses the judges. 


More was taken back to his cell. His son, who 
was awaiting his departure from Westminster Hall, 
threw himself at his knees and asked his blessing. 
More said good-bye to him and got into the boat. 
A dear friend of his, Sir William Kingston, Constable 
of the Tower, went with him, and could not restrain 
his tears. " Sir Thomas More, seeing him so 
sorrowful, comforted him with as good words as he 
could, saying : ' Good Master Kingston, trouble not 
yourself, but be of good cheer ; for I will pray for 
you and my good lady your wife, that we may meet 


in heaven together, where we shall be merry for ever 
and ever." Roper alone has the right to tell what 

"When Sir Thomas More came from West- 
minster to the Tower-ward again, his daughter, my 
wife, desirous to see her father, whom she thought 
she would never see in this world after, and also to 
have his final blessing, gave attendance about the 
Tower wharf, where she knew he should pass by 
before he could enter into the Tower. There, tarry- 
ing his coming, as soon as she saw him, after his 
blessing upon her knees reverently received, she, 
hasting towards him, without consideration or care 
of herself, pressing in amongst the midst of the 
throng and company of the guard, that with halberds 
and bills went round about him, hastily ran to him, 
and there openly, in sight of them all, embraced him, 
and took him about the neck and kissed him. Who 
well liking her most natural and dear daughterly 
affection towards him, gave her his fatherly blessing, 
and many godly words of comfort besides. From 
whom after she was departed, she, not satisfied with 
the former sight of her dear father, and like one that 
had forgotten herself, being all ravished with the 
entire love of her dear father, having respect neither 
to herself nor to the press of people and multitude 
that were there about him, suddenly turned back 
again, ran to him as before, took him about the 
neck, and divers times kissed him most lovingly; 
and at last, with a full and heavy heart, was fain to 
depart from him : the beholding whereof was to 
many of them that were present thereat so lament- 


able, that it made them for very sorrow thereof to 
weep and mourn." 

That was on July 1. On the following Monday, 
July 5, convinced that the end was not far off. More 
took off his hair-shirt and sent it to his daughter 
Margaret, with a letter, the last and most precious 
of all. 

" Our Lord bless you, good daughter, and your 
good husband, and your little boy; and all yours, 
and all my children, and all my god-children, and all 
our friends. Recommend me, when you may, to my 
good daughter Cicily, whom I beseech our Lord to 
comfort. And I send her my blessing, and to all her 
children, and pray her to pray for me. I send her 
an handkerchief, and God comfort my good son her 
husband. My good daughter Dance hath the picture 
in parchment, that you delivered me from my Lady 
Coniers; her name is on the backside. Show her 
that I heartily pray her, that you may send it in my 
name to her again, for a token from me to pray for 
me. I like special well Dorothy Coly ; I pray you be 
good unto her. I would wit whether this be she that 
you wrote me of. If not, yet 1 pray you be good to 
the tother, as you may in her affliction, and to my 
good daughter Joan Aleyn too. Give her, I pray 
you, some kind answer, for she sued hither to me 
this day to pray you be good to her. I cumber you, 
good Margaret, much, but I would be sorry if it 
should be any longer than to-morrow. For it is 
Saint Thomas's Eve, and the Utas of Saint Peter ^ ; 

' St Thomas's Eve : i.e. the eve of the Feast of the Translation 
of the relics of St Thomas of Canterbury, July 7th. Utas : i.e. 
the octave day of the Feast of St Peter, June 29th. 


and therefore to-morrow long I to go to God : it were 
a day very meet and convenient for me." 

Even while he writes the letter, the thought of the 
meeting of a few days before comes upon him with 
poignant sweetness. 

" I never liked your manner toward me better than 
when you kissed me last ; for I love when daughterly 
love and dear charity hath no leisure to look to 
worldly courtesy. Farewell, my dear child, and pray 
for me, and 1 shall for you and all your friends, that 
we may merrily meet in heaven. I thank you for 
your great cost. I send now to my good daughter 
Clement her algorism stone, and I send her, and my 
godson, and all hers God's blessing and mine. I pray 
you at time convenient recommend me to my good 
son yohn More. I liked well his natural fashion.^ 
Our Lord bless him and his good wife my loving 
daughter, to whom I pray him to be good, as he hath 
great cause ; and that if the land of mine come to 
his hand, he break not my will concerning his sister 
Dance. And our Lord bless Thomas ^ and Austen 
and all that they shall have." ^ 


Early in the morning of July 6 came Sir Thomas 
Pope, "his singular good friend, with a niessage 

1 More is evidently speaking of his manner at their last meeting. 

' Cresacre More is included in this blessing. In printing this 
letter in his Life of Thomas More, he puts in brackets, after the 
name of Thomas, who was then still a child, the words : " who 
was my father." • Roper. 


from the King and the council, that he was to suffer 
death on that day before nine of the clock." The 
king also desired of More that at his execution he 
should not use many words. " ' Mr Pope,' quoth he, 
'you do well to give me warning of the King's pleasure, 
for otherwise I had purposed at that time somewhat 
to have spoken ; but no matter, wherewith his Grace, 
or any other, should have cause to be offended. 
Howbeit, whatsoever I intended,! am ready obediently 
to conform myself to his Highness's command ; and 
I beseech you, good Mr Pope, to be a means to his 
Majesty that my daughter Margaret may be at my 
burial.' Then, Sir Thomas Pope taking his leave of 
him, could not refrain from weeping. Which Sir 
Thomas More perceiving, comforted him in this 
wise : ' Quiet yourself, good Master Pope, and be 
not discomforted, for I trust that we shall once in 
heaven see each other full merrily, where we 
shall be sure to live and love together, in joyful 
bliss eternally.' " And to draw him out of his 
melancholy he went on to make a joke, which, 
though perfectly innocent, would seem a little 
coarse to modern notions, and had better not be 

"When he was gone," Cresacre continues, "Sir 
Thomas More, as one that had been invited to some 
solemn banquet, changed himself into his best ap- 
parel, and put on his silk camelot gown, which his 
entire friend, Mr Antony Bonvisi (a noble citizen 
of the state of Luca in Italy . . .) gave him, whilst 
he was in the Tower. Mr Lieutenant seeing him 
' Cresacre More; chap, xi. 


prepare himself so to his death, counselled him for 
his own benefit to put them off again, saying that he 
who should have them was but a javel.^ ' What, 
Mr Lieutenant,' said Sir Thomas, ' shall I account 
him a javel who will do me this day so singular a 
benefit ? Nay, I assure you, were it cloth of gold I 
would think it well bestowed on him. For St 
Cyprian, that famous Bishop of Carthage, gave his 
executioner thirty pieces of gold, because he knew 
he should procure unto him an unspeakable good 
turn.' Yet for all this Mr Lieutenant so pressed 
him, that at last, being loath for friendship's sake to 
deny him so small a matter, he altered his gown and 
put on a gown of frieze ; but yet he sent of that little 
money which was left him one angel of gold to the 
hangman, in token that he maliced him nothing, but 
rather loved him exceedingly for it." 

There is no mistaking the significance of this 
passage. On the morning of his execiition. Sir 
Thomas More was still the same as ever.. There 
is not a trace of exaltation or enthusiasm. He is 
calm rather than joyful; and he goes to his death 
rather as to an empty formality than to a festival. 
He remains thoroughly English to the end, neither 
trying any flights beyond his nature, nor searching 
for great words. Addison has drawn attention to 
this in a classic passage : " Tha:t innocent Mirth, 
which had been so conspicuous in his Life, did not 
forsake him to the last : ... His Death was of a 
piece with his Life. There was nothing in it new, 
forced, or affected. He did not look upon the 
' i.e. low fellow. 


severing his Head from his Body as a Circumstance 
that ought to produce any Change in the Disposition 
of his Mind." ^ He jokes when bidding farewell to 
Sir Thomas Pope, and jokes all the way to the 
scaffold and on the scaffold itself, because there 
is never a moment at which humour is not natural 
to him. He never thinks of fortifying himself 
against fear, and still less of making a display of 
heroism. At most he wishes to cheer the woeful 
companions of his last walk. Burnett confides in 
us that these closing jokes struck many people as 
indecent, death being too solemn a thing to be 
jested with. He himself is too wise to go so far 
as that, but he inclines to think that such pro- 
ceedings are rather Stoic than Christian. That 
is merely the petty spite of a man who had every 
reason for not admiring the simple courage and 
candour of noble souls. To tell the truth, I can see 
nothing that could properly be called either Stoic or 
Christian. Had he been more terrified, less sure 
of his eternal recompense, no doubt More would 
have behaved otherwise; but the grace that he 
had long prayed for enabled him to remain faithful 
to his own nature. The martyr who went to the 
scaffold with the gentle mockery on his lips that 
we shall shortly read was simply the Thomas More 
of every day. We may repeat, too, what we said 
before in connection with his writings. His humour, 
like all humour, is only on the surface, where, at 
such a moment, his inner life is not. His jests 
would be tasteless but for their spontaneity, their 
' Spectator, No. 349. 


unexpectedness. In reality, like his brethren, the 
martyrs of all ages, More at the bottom of his 
heart is talking with God, asking humbly for the 
grace he has need of, and withdrawing himself 
from all things, to see only "the heavens opened, 
and the Son of man standing on the right hand 
of God." 1 

" He was therefore brought about nine of the 
clock by Mr Lieutenant out of the Tower, his 
beard being long, which fashion he never had 
before used, his face pale and lean, carrying in 
his hands a red cross, casting his eyes often towards 
heaven. As he thus passed by a good woman's 
house, she came forth and offered him a cup of wine 
which he refused, saying: 'Christ in His passion 
drank no wine, but gall and vinegar.' There came 
another woman after him, crying unto him for 
certain books, which she had given to his custody 
when he was Lord Chancellor. To whom he said : 
' Good woman, have patience but for one hour's 
space, and by that time the King's Majesty will rid 
me of the care I have for thy papers and all other 
matters whatsoever.' Another woman, suborned 
thereto, as some think, by his adversaries to dis- 

' With More's quiet jokes may be compared Anne Boleyn's 
shouts of laughter when the hour of her doom had struck. 
Bossuet is very hard and unjust to the poor woman. "She 
began to laugh, either to make ostentation of an exaggerated 
intrepidity, or because her head was turned by the approach of 
death"; and he thinks that "God willed that the end of this 
princess should be as ridiculous as it was tragic " ( Variations, 
livre vii.). Her laughter, as a matter of fact, was purely nervous, 
and not in the least ridiculous. 


grace him, followed him also crying out against 
him, that he had done her great injury when he 
had been Lord Chancellor; to whom he gave the 
answer, that he remembered her cause very 
well ; and that if he were now to give sentence 
thereof, he would not alter what he had already 
done. . . . 

" Being now brought to the scaffold, whereon he 
was to be beheaded, it seemed to him so weak that 
it was ready to fall ; wherefore he said merrily to 
Mr Lieutenant : ' I pray you, sir, see me safe 
up, and for my coming down let me shift for 

"When he began to speak a little to the people 
which were in great troops there to hear and see 
him, he was interrupted by the Sheriff. Wherefore 
briefly he desired all the people to pray for him, and 
to bear witness with him that he there died in and 
for the faith of the Holy Catholic Church, a faithful 
servant of God and the king. Having spoken but 
this he kneeled down, and pronounced with great 
devotion the Miserere psalm, which being ended, 
he cheerfully rose up, and the executioner asking 
his forgiveness, he kissed him, saying : ' Thou wilt 
do me this day a greater benefit than ever any 
mortal man can be able to give me ; pluck up thy 
spirit, man, and be not afraid to do thy office ; my 
neck is very short; take heed therefore that thou 
strike not awry, for saving thy honesty.' When 
the executioner would have covered his eyes, he 
said : . ' I will cover them myself ' ; and presently 
he did so, with a cloth he had brought with him for 


the purpose. Then laying his head upon the block, 
he bade the executioner stay until he had removed 
aside his beard, saying that that had never com- 
mitted any treason. So with great alacrity and 
spiritual joy, he received the fatal blow of the axe. . . . 
And thus he found those words true, which he had 
often spoken, that a man may lose his head and 
have no harm ; yea, I say unspeakable good and 
endless happiness." * 

' Cresacre More, cap. xi. 


Works of More 

English Works (with several of his letters). 
Rastell's edition, 1557. 

Opera latina. Frankfort, 1689. 

Several of his letters are printed in full or abbre- 
viated in the Calendars of State Papers. The 
letter to Dorpius may be conveniently referred 
to in the London edition of the letters of 
Erasmus ; and the letters to a monk who had 
attacked Erasmus, and to the University of 
Oxford, in the appendices to Jortin's Erasmus 
(1808, vol. iii.). 

The Bibliographical Dictionary of the English 
Catholics (J. Gillow, 1902) gives an excellent 
bibliography of More. 

Contemporary Documents 

Calendars, Rolls Series 

Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII. (vol. 

iii., et seq.), edited by Brewer, Gairdner, and 

Calendar of State Papers — England and Spain (vol. 

ii., et seq.), edited by Bergenroth and P. de 

Calendar of State Papers — Venetian, iii., iv., edited 

by Rawdon Brown. 
Baga de Secretis. The text of the trial. 
Erasmi Epistolae, London, 1642, and Le Clerc, D. 

Erasmi Epistolae, 1706. The dates of the letters 



are very exactly fixed in the translation by Mr 
F. M. Nicliols, which, unfortunately, stops at 
present at the accession of Henry VIII. 

Original Letters. Sir Henry Ellis. 

Lives of Sir Thomas More 

Contemporary, or quasi-contemporary ; Roper 
(King's Classics edition, 1903), MS. Harpsfleld, 
Brit. Mus., Harl., 6253. Thomas Stapleton, 
Tres Thomae, 1588 ; and a good resume of the 
three written in 1599 and published by Words- 
worth, Ecclesiastical Biography, vol. ii. 

English Lives : Cresacre More, 1626; Walter, 1840; 
Bridgett, 2nd edition, 1892; W. H. Hutton, 

French : Translations of Stapleton and Walter. 

Italian : Dom Regi, 1675, with especial reference to 
More as Chancellor. 

Two or three German lives, out of date. 

Essays or Chapters in Books 
Mackintosh (Sir James). Lives of Eminent British 

Campbell. Lives of the Chancellors. 
Nisard (D.). Etudes sur la Renaissance. 
Seebohm. Oxford Reformers. 
Lilly (W. S.). Renaissance Types. 
Sidney Lee. Dictionary of National Biography. 

Imaginative Works 
Ellis Heywood. II Moro d'Heivodo. 
Anne Manning. The Household of Sir Thomas More. 
Marsden (John). Philomorus (on the Latin epi- 
grams of Sir Thomas More). 


General History 

Brewer (T. S.). The Reign of Henry VIII. 

Dixon. History of the Church of Etigland. 

Friedmann (Paul). Anne Boleyn. (The French 
translation, revised by the author, is more 

Gairdner. The English Church in the Sixteenth 
Century. (Vol. iv. of Stephens and Hunt.) 

Gasquet. Henry VIII. and the English Monas- 

Gasquet. The Eve of the Reformation. 

Gasquet. The English Bible. 

Biographies of More's Contemporaries 

Dictionary of National Biography. 

Bridgett. Life of Fisher, 2nd edition, 1890. 

Van Ortroy. Vie de Fisher. Brussels, 1893. A 
re-issue of an old Latin life, with most valuable 
notes. Cf. p. 35, the attribution to Ph. Dumont 
of the famous letters on More's martyrdom long 
attributed to Erasmus. 

The various lives of Erasmus, by Jortin, Drummond, 
Feugfere, Amiel, Froude, etc. 

Creighton (M.). Wolsey, etc. 


Portraits by Holbein in the possession of M. E. 
Huth. Cf. an excellent photogravure in Pollard's 
Henry VIII., 1902. 

A fine study by Holbein at Windsor. The pen- 
drawing in the museum at Basle. Cf. Gillow. 

Printed in England.